Discussion in 'Tenji Aquarium Design + Build' started by Tenji, Sep 4, 2018.

Equipment: Choosing Your Protein Skimmer

After we have chosen our display aquarium and sump, it’s time to start planning the life support system (LSS). Protein skimmers are the digestive...
  1. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    Tenji is pleased to present a series of exclusive articles for Reef2Reef members. We will be delving into the various aspects of reef keeping, focusing on tried and true methods that can be implemented by aquarists of all levels.
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    After we have chosen our display aquarium and sump, it’s time to start planning the life support system (LSS). Protein skimmers are the digestive tract of our LSS. They remove waste, excess food and other organic compounds prior to breaking down into algae fuel. The pump is the heart of your protein skimmer. A quality handcrafted acrylic reaction chamber fitted with an el cheapo pump won’t get you far. Go the extra mile when it comes to budgeting for your skimmer to avoid premature failure and constant tinkering. Once your skimmer is dialed in you should be able to forget about it (besides regular cleaning) for a while.


    A quick internet search will reveal a myriad of options. We’re pleased to see that nowadays most off-the-shelf skimmers are actually pretty great right out of the box. Gone are the days of upgrading impellers, improving needle-wheel performance, and injecting additional air into the reaction chamber. That’s not to say there aren’t a few duds still being floated as new technology, so stick with a known brand with consistent good reviews and you’ll start off on the right foot.

    Due to the emotionally charged arguments that go hand and hand with foam fractionator choices we will not be bulleting pros and cons, rather providing a brief description of each method.


    Needlewheel impeller skimmers are by far the most prevalent today. And for good reason, they’re generally quite easy for the uninitiated to tune, they’re a bit more forgiving when it comes to settings than their counterparts, and quality models just keep running with little interference from the aquarist. From tiny to massive, they can be found in many shapes and sizes. Did I mention they use the least power out of the other options too? Besides perhaps the age-old classic air driven skimmers, needlewheels quietly sip watts as the impeller design does all the heavy lifting. Needlewheels pull air into the pumps’ volute via a venturi, then shred the air into microbubbles that rise up the reaction chamber. These microbubbles strip hydrophobic molecules out of solution and eventually into the collection cup (same as all skimmers we’ll discuss today).


    Air driven counter-current skimmers (for home aquariums) are nearly obsolete. We find them in the back closets of public aquariums that employees forgot existed. They can be spotted at the occasional garage sale alongside a slate-bottomed steel-framed aquarium (vintage aquariums FTW). But in their day, they were the bee’s knees. These skimmers used wooden air stones to create microbubbles, which operate best when like-new. This resulted in replacing the wooden air stones every couple of months. Water is generally pumped into the top and exits out the bottom, so the air bubbles driven up would create a counter-current.



    Beckett skimmers can be defined similarly to a downdraft skimmer (see below), however, they utilize a special injector called a, wait for it… Beckett injector. Like any venturi, the Beckett injector draws air into water by utilizing a change in pressure. Beckett injection is simply a specific way of drawing in that air. Some swear these skimmers produce the most consistent and tiniest bubbles, and generally, the reaction chamber is smaller than a standard venturi model. Our main gripe with them compared to other methods nowadays is that they oftentimes require a pressure-rated pump to afford proper operation of the injectors, which can draw major power long-term. With that said they are a truly phenomenal means of creating skimmate.


    Downdraft skimmers can still be spotted in the field on occasion. Another oldie but goodie, with some companies still pushing out downdraft powerhouses that send many needlewheels running for the hills. As opposed to a beckett or venturi skimmer, downdraft skimmers force water through a nozzle into an inlet commonly filled with bioballs (or another turbulence creating mechanism). As the high-pressured water tears through the nozzle and flows downward, microbubbles are formed. The micro bubble filled water collects in a square or rectangle basin at the bottom then moves upward into the reaction chamber. Best performance of a downdraft skimmer also generally requires a pressure-rated pump, but once these get going, they just don’t quit.


    More often than not you’ll find yourself staring at a needlewheel skimmer when you pop a fellow reefers hood, but don’t be too quick to write off the other styles. Due to the influx of el cheapo mass-produced needlewheel skimmers, you’ll commonly find higher quality versions of the other styles at rock bottom prices. Choose a skimmer that you’re not afraid to take apart for consistent cleaning and preventative maintenance and be comfortable with the fine-tuning process.

    Remember skimmers are the digestive tract of your system, likely the most important piece of equipment to keep nutrients at bay. You get what you pay for no matter the philosophy behind it, so don’t skimp!
     
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  2. Katrina71

    Katrina71 Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    What do you suggest for AIO tanks? The little guys?
     
  3. Shores805

    Shores805 Rogue R2R Supporter

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    I used to have a deltec HOB skimmer for my old Solana and it was epic. FYI
     
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  4. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    Hi Katrina, As mentioned above the Deltec line is pretty killer. Past that we haven't been overly impressed with nano skimmers, but they're really an entirely different animal than larger skimmers with good sized reaction chambers. Admittedly we do not have much experience in the nano skimmer sector.

    Generally we rely on larger percentage water changes to keep nutrients at bay in nano systems with fantastic results.
     
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  5. hart24601

    hart24601 Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    Great write up!
    For the nano question I have been very impressed with tunze DC nano skimmers. The DC really is great to fine tune otherwise fussy little skimmers and while I am not a fan of DC on other skimmers because AC has always worked great for me and is reliable, DC is awesome for the little guys.
     
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  6. Katrina71

    Katrina71 Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award

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    @Tenji thanks. That's what I do
     
  7. Bob E

    Bob E Active Member Partner Member 2018

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    Thanks for the write up
     
  8. NeverlosT

    NeverlosT SPS nut Build Thread Contributor

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    Great writeup! The only thing that I disagree with is "you get what you pay for" when it comes to skimmers. Honestly, you don't. I dont know how many amazing tanks that I have seen running on simple or cheaper skimmers. (Shnitzelreefs is a great example, used a Bubbleking, used a vertex, used others, ended up with a (comparatively) cheap Aquamaxx and swears by it).

    Furthermore, people act like there is a reason for a skimmer to be bombproof, needing super thick materials or ti hardware or whatever, it just isnt necessary unless you plan on going skiing with your skimmer. This thing is going to sit in your sump for its whole life, other than cleaning, and see almost no dynamic loading whatsoever.

    I think some features that might be worth paying for are ones that come completely apart for cleaning, ones that encourage longer dwell times or reduced turbulence by design, or ones with cup drains and such.

    Either way, I just wanted to point out that there are a ton of successful designs, and a MUCH more important factor than price is probably size so that one does not oversize or undersize a skimmer. I know that is a controversial topic, but I see lots of folks with massive skimmers that cannot maintain a bubble head because the system just doesnt have the waste.

    Anyhow, great article!
     
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  9. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    All great points, @NeverlosT !

    If a skimmer is producing good, nasty skimmate, then it is properly doing it's job.

    We have issues in larger institutions where lots of hands come into contact with equipment who sometimes are not too careful with fragile acrylic parts. If you drop a cheap skimmer cup on the ground, odds are it's going to break. Unless you have jazzy shag carpeting, of course.

    The part we focus on most when it comes to skimmer is the robustness of the pump. Better pumps cost more, they last longer, and generally require less frequent maintenance, but that does not directly correlate with skimmate production. Case in point can be seen in the example below which isn't an el cheapo model, but also didn't break the bank. This was an 11 year old Reef Octopus SRO skimmer fitted with a bubble blaster pump that consistently blew the lid askew at least once a week. I never took the skimmer or pump apart, and only had to clean the cup as necessary during its reign. We watched this unit skim circles around models with newer technology and four-figure price tags for over a decade.

    upload_2018-9-5_16-54-24.png
     
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  10. NeverlosT

    NeverlosT SPS nut Build Thread Contributor

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    Oh for sure, Agreed @Tenji . In a commercial or institutional atmosphere I totally agree. I just think for 99% of people and most forum readers, these are just their in-home skimmers and as such not subject to the rigors of industrial use.

    which institutions have you worked in? It would be super cool to see pictures or descriptions of some of the industrial strength skimmers/filtration gear used in commercial/institutional salt water applications. I have seen some big Aquarium Engineering units and those are pretty wild. I used to work at MBL in Woods Hole MA, and I remember being in awe of all of the huge industrial filtration equipment.

    Anyhow, thanks for the article!

    Ooh, update, I just clicked on the link "about tenji" and there are some awesome pics in there of industrial gear! If folks are interested, click there!
     
  11. vetteguy53081

    vetteguy53081 Well known Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Build Thread Contributor

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    A ghost skimmer or a hang on back version.
     
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  12. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    We need to update the client list on our website as it has doubled over time, but here's what it currently reads:
    • Anchorage Museum - Anchorage, Alaska
    • Aquamarine Fukushima - Iwaki City, Japan
    • Avila Beach Sea Life Center - Avila Beach, California
    • Bay Area Discovery Museum - Sausilito, California
    • Bigelow Laboratory - East Boothbay, Maine
    • Biota! - London, England
    • Bowdoin College - Brunswick, Maine
    • Bow Habitat Station - Alberta, Canada
    • Bumble Café - Los Altos, California
    • Cabela's - Charlottesville, West Virginia
    • Cabela's - Cheektowaga, New York
    • Cabela's - Grandville, Michigan
    • Cabela's - Thornton, Colorado
    • Cabela's - Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin
    • Cabela's - Edmonton, Alberta
    • Cabela's - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
    • Canadian Museum of Nature - Ottawa, Canada
    • Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Raleigh, North Carolina
    • Children's Museum and Theater of Maine - Portland, Maine
    • Cupertino Library - Cupertino, California
    • Dartmouth College - Hanover, New Hampshire
    • Dennis Aquarium - Big Sur, California
    • Detroit Zoo - Detroit, Michigan
    • Discovery Park of America - Union City, Tennessee
    • Discovery Place - Charlotte, North Carolina
    • Dive Bar - Sacramento, California
    • Esquire 360 Home - Beverley Hills, California
    • Georgia Aquarium - Atlanta, Georgia
    • Guadalajara Zoo - Guadalajara, Mexico
    • Gulf Aquarium and Marine Station Cooperative - Cheticamp, Canada
    • Gulf of Maine Research Institute - Portland, Maine
    • Headlands Institute - Marin, California
    • Joel Knight Tax and Business Service - Monterey, California
    • LL Bean - Freeport, Maine
    • Lucile Packard Children's Hospital - Palo Alto, California
    • Maria Mitchell Association - Nantucket, Massachusetts
    • Marine Environmental Research Institute - Blue Hill, Maine
    • MGM Grand Hotel and Casino - Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium - Miami, Florida
    • Mirage Hotel and Casino - Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Mobius - Spokane, Washington
    • Monterey Bay Aquarium - Monterey, California
    • Moon Jelly Aquarium - Caracas, Venezuela
    • National Aquarium - Baltimore, Maryland
    • Neosho National Fish Hatchery - Neosho, Missouri
    • Newport Aquarium - Newport, Kentucky
    • Nike, Inc. - Seattle, Washington
    • North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island - Manteo, North Carolina
    • NOVA Southeastern - Dania Beach, Florida
    • Oakland Museum of California - Oakland, California
    • Ocean Park - Hong Kong, China
    • Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium - Point Defiance, Washington
    • Private Aquarium A - Big Sur, California
    • Private Aquarium B - Woodside, California
    • Private Aquarium C - Kona, Hawaii
    • Private Aquarium D - Monterey, California
    • Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery - Fairbanks, Alaska
    • Sitka Science Center - Sitka, Alaska
    • Southern Connecticut State University - New Haven, Connecticut
    • Steinhart Aquarium (California Academy of Science) - San Francisco, California
    • Storey Publishing - North Adams, Massachusetts
    • Tennessee Aquarium - Chattanooga, Tennessee
    • Tongas Coast Aquarium - Ketchikan, Alaska
    • Washington County Water Conservancy District - Saint George, Utah
    • Waterbar Restaurant - San Francisco, California
     
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  13. vetteguy53081

    vetteguy53081 Well known Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Build Thread Contributor

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    Ghost skimmer
     
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  14. cracker

    cracker Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Build Thread Contributor

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