Anoxic Filtration Experiment On 55g Mbuna Tank, Work In Progress

Discussion in 'Filters and Filtration' started by Islandvic, Jul 13, 2019.

  1. Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Last year, I discovered anoxic filtration, biocenesis baskets and the work of Dr. Kevin Novak.

    A member on the forum, @coralbandit , had referenced denitrification and Dr. Novak in a post last year, so after a Google search, I realized it would take a lot more reading and research to attempt to understand this type of filtration.

    To paraphrase, Dr. Novak uses anoxic filtration, plenums and biocenesis baskets to reduce/eliminate ammonia, nitrates and phosphates.

    Through a combination of using negative/positive charged ions and anaerobic facultative bacteria, these filter systems improve water clarity, can reduce the frequency of water changes, reduce ammonia almost eliminate nitrates.

    Here is a LINK that describes the science behind all of this, it is an excellent read.

    Here are some of Dr. Novak's YouTube videos that better describe the plenums and biocenesis baskets (BCB's).


    (Plenum with air lift tube)




    (Biocenesis Baskets in sump)




    (Traditional plenum construction)



    (Anoxic Filtration and magnetic permeability)
     

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    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    So with the start of my 55g Mbuna tank build, I wanted to install a plenum and utilize concepts of the BCB's. I wasn't going to use a sump, so I didn't have a way to use the BCB system.

    So I made a hybrid between the BCB and the plenum w/ an air lift.

    In my system, under the UGF are layers of Flourite and baked clay (kitty litter), plastic craft mesh and sun shade screen material. Above the UGF are 2 more layers of the sun shade screen to restrict sand from entering the UGF. I shortened the lift tubes to about 2 inches to minimize lift. The reduction of lift combined with water having to pass through 3-4 inches of sand and layers of screen before entering the UGF will give me the very low flow recommend by Dr. Novak.

    Instead of having biocenesis baskets in a sump, I basically made a large flat BCB at the bottom of the tank where the very slow moving water from the plenum passes over it attracting the positive ions out of the water.


    The construction......


    I bought a bag of Special Kitty non-clumping and non-fragrance cat litter from WalMart that is 100% baked clay. It is the same as Dr. Novak recommends.

    Next I bought a bag of Seachem Flourite.

    I then proceeded to wash both in 5 gallon buckets. It turned out to be a larger PITA that I had expected.




    Afterwards, I gathered the materials I needed for my anoxic system.

    *Sheets of plastic craft mesh

    *Under gravel filter (I used Top Fin UGF from PetSmart)

    *Material to catch sand (I used patio sun screen material I already had, though Dr. Novak suggests weed barrier fabric)

    *airstones, air line, fittings and air pump (I used air stones from Kensfish.com, bulk air line from Lee's, and a Fluval Q1)


    I first laid down a layer of the Flourite.

    Next a put down a layer of baked clay kitty litter.



    I then pushed back the edges on the sides and front, since the UGF would not fully cover the bottom of the tank.



    In the space I pushed back, I back filled it with my substrate, pool filter sand.


    A layer of outdoor patio sun shade screen was placed over everything. Dr. Novak reccomend weed barrier for gardens, but I already had the sun screen material and used it instead.

    Topping off the sun screen material was sheets of plastic craft mesh.

    The craft mesh and sunscreen allow the Flourite and baked clay to stay in place and prevent the UGF from sinking down into those layer .
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2019
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Now the UGF is placed.



    On top of the UGF went 2 more layers of the patio sun screen shade material. This prevents sand from entering the UGF and clogging it.





    I shortened the lift tubes to about 2" high and used a "T" fitting to allow 1 hose line to supply air to the air stones in both lift tubes.

    Finally, I covered everything with the final substrate of Quikrete Pool Filter Sand.


    20190713_175819.

    I finished the build the same morning the 15 Mbuna + 1 syndontis cuckoo catfish arrived by FedEx.

    I had already cycled media for the canister, so I had an instantly cycled tank.

    Day 1 parameters: 0 / 0 / 0

    Day 5 parameters: 0 / 0 / 5

    Water has remained clear with no bacteria bloom.

    I will post updates of this experiment as time progresses.
     
  4. JayH

    JayHValued MemberMember

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    I have a couple questions. Why did you mix Fluorite with the kitty litter? Why did you put the Fluorite and kitty litter under the undergravel filter plate?
     
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    @JayH , The link I posted plus the 2nd and 4th videos explains best why Fluorite (substitute for Laterite) and the kitty litter is used. Has to do with Flourite being an iron source and both have opposite charges compared to the charges of ammonia and nitrate ions.

    I placed it under the UGF because I didn't want water to flow through it, I wanted water to flow over it slowly.

    It is my version of a biocenesis basket that happens to be flat, instead of a cube, with water flowing slowly over it, instead of around it.
     
  6. JayH

    JayHValued MemberMember

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    I thought Fluorite was inert. I've got two bags of it sitting here and there's no mention of iron on the packaging.

    I hope it works for you, but without any way for the water to flow through the lowest layer I suspect you'll have some very dead zones. That's one of the reasons Dr. Novak recommends the plenum under the substrate. You want the water to be able to move in and out. With no open cavity underneath the movement of the water is going to be greatly restricted.

    The open pathways around Dr. Novak's biocenesis basket should allow most of the water to flow around the baskets, but there should also be a low flow through the basket. I don't think you're going to get flow like that through the layer of material under the filter plates.

    I'll be anxious to see what kind of results you get.
     
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    It's just an experiment. It may or may not work.

    I have had this idea for a long time, so I finally got to pull the trigger on it with the new tank.

    The different colors of Fluorite that Seachem offers all have minerals in them, such as iron, potassium, magnesium etc etc.

    Here is a link for Seachem's website showing it.

    Screenshot_20190714-005542_Chrome.



    Flourite has 18k+ ppm of iron in it.

    As water slowly passes through the UGF plates, I am relying on the charged ions in the water to be drawn into layers of kitty litter/flourite through what Dr. Novak called magnetic permeability.

    I've also constructed a small rectangular BCB that I placed inside an AC110 hob on my 75g.

    Next I'm going to construct one more slender, that fits into a different HOB for the 55g.

    I will post pics of that and more updates later in the week.
     
  8. JayH

    JayHValued MemberMember

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    It's my understanding the "composition" of Fluorite is locked up inside the material and not available to plants, or, one would assume, bacteria. That's why it's referred to as "inert".

    I recall Dr. Novak talking about magnetic permeability of the kitty litter, but, to be honest, I thought it sounded a bit like he was piling it higher and deeper. It made even less sense much later when he finally started talking about the growth of biofilm and anaerobic bacteria. If the biofilm is coating the kitty litter, any magnetic permeability of the kitty litter seems like it would be rendered useless. Unless the biofilm also has magnetic permeability. My strong suspicion is the flow of water through the chamber containing the biocenesis baskets is what's driving the filtration. But then I'm not a chemist.
     
  9. MrBryan723

    MrBryan723Well Known MemberMember

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    I am interested to see how this works out. I stumbled across a similar concept a couple years ago that I had been tinkering with and my current setup won't maintain any nitrates that i can tell so far. It is a planted tank so I'm actually unsure if it's the plants removing them or a combination of anoxic and the plants. But my past few tests have read essentially 0. 20190708_010230.
    The left is my main tank and the right is my tap water. The center is another half empty tank with no fish and just algae and duckweed.
     
  10. MrBryan723

    MrBryan723Well Known MemberMember

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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Wow @MrBryan723 , I just discovered your thread today after clicking the link!

    You have a great setup. Very well planned out.

    I will definitely be keeping tabs on your progress.

    I would have never thought of using a reverse UGF from the discharge of a canister to reduce nitrates, using the layered substrate you have.

    That is fantastic.

    My build didn't turn out exactly as I had first planned due to time constraints, but I kept to the basic theme of my original vision.

    My plenum area is only the height of the UGF plates. I had planned for more plunum height and slightly different integration of the layers of kitty litter and Flourite. In the end I am still pleased with my experiment.

    The way I figure, it shouldn't make nitrates worse. It will either do nothing or it may make improvements.

    We will see in a few months.

    @JayH , you're probably right. I would not doubt a portion of water flowing slowing through BCB's contributes to how they work. BCB's were conceived for koi ponds, with multiple baskets of larger size versus what I have seen people place into their sumps.

    Dr. Novak has a video where he advised that after adding a power head in the sump chamber containing his BCB's, he saw improvements in performance. I believe he contributed it to increased circulation around the BCB's and probably through them.

    Novak isn't selling anything or profiting from his posts and blogs. He even sends CD-Roms with all of his info by mail to those who ask, and as far as I know he pays out of pocket for postage.

    This is the opposite of someone like Richard "Pondguru" Thew on YouTube, who owns and distributes his brand of BioHome sinstered glass media. His channel is great, but he profits from his videos since they're all advertising for BioHome (which I'm not against, Im a capitalist by nature).

    My only point is that I think Novak is pushing his concepts to genuinely help the fish keeping community versus being guided by profit like Richard.

    I'm a tinkerer and it's hard for me to leave well enough alone, as the saying goes.

    So if my project doesn't work, then I'm only out some time and effort, but still gained satisfaction from seeing a small project through fruition.
     
  12. JayH

    JayHValued MemberMember

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    My suspicion is the BCB actually works much like Matrix or Biohome in that anoxic zones are established within the media due to lower flow deep inside plus the aerobic bacteria in the outer portions depleting the oxygen. I would love to see a true scientific comparison of the various media.

    I think there's a difference between simply being guided by profit and recommending a product because you genuinely believe it to be a good solution. One of the primary differences between the approaches is the Novak ideas require specific filter situations -- a very low flow plenum under the substrate, a biocenesis basket in a sump -- while the Biohome recommended by the Pond Guru will work in conventional filters such as canisters and HOBs that have relatively high flow. I'm planning to put Biohome behind my corner matten filter and I've been assured it will work fine like that. Perhaps a bag of kitty litter mixed with laterite would work similarly. I don't know. I already have the Biohome so that's what I'm going with. The Pond Guru recommended Biohome will work in most filter situations. The Novak solutions require specific circumstances.

    One of the things I liked about the Pond Guru videos is that I don't think he really pushes the Biohome aggressively. Sure, he uses it in every filter optimization video, but it's a product he helped design. That's to be expected. He also frequently says you can use other media if you like. If you watch all the videos you'll see several times where he mentions other specific media being pretty good. Much of it he thinks is junk and he's not bashful about saying that, but he has said certain other medias aren't bad at all. Point being, I don't think it's right to dismiss what he says simply because he's associated with a specific product. Seachem is making a boatload of money off their aquarium products. Do you dismiss their advice simply because there's money involved?

    I would also point to Cory from Aquarium Co-op. He makes money selling aquarium stuff online, so he also has a profit motive. Yet I've seen him say things like, "You probably don't really need a heater." That sounds like advice against self interest. Again, the point being just because there's possibly money involved doesn't mean the advice being given is wrong.

    And just to be clear, I'm not knocking Dr. Novak at all. I think he has some very interesting ideas, some of which I plan to implement myself. If I ever get a tank big enough to justify a sump, I'll almost certainly be trying the kitty litter and laterite. But I don't think his advice should be given any additional weight simply because there's no apparent profit motive.
     
  13. MrBryan723

    MrBryan723Well Known MemberMember

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    Ran another test today, was expecting at least some nitrates but nope. The left is my fish tank and the right is my control(my tapwater) 20190715_231945.

    On a side note, possibly related, I've noticed a bit more leaf litter in my tank from my plants and one of my cardinal plants has a hole in one of its leaves.
     
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    That is great that the nitrates from tap water is also being processed with relative ease.

    Excellent results.

    I may have to check my Petco, see if they are still having the $1/gallon sale and pick up a 40breeder to stash in the garage for a future build. It would be very interesting to replicate your design of the reverse flow UGF powered by a canister !

    I tested this morning, (Day 8) my 55g was 0 / 0 / 5-10'ish. Hard to tell sometimes with these colormetric tests.

    The pH has been steady at 7.8, which all my tanks run at.

    Water also had remained clear.

    These Mbuna sure love to dig in the sand. Its hilarious watching them dig !
     
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Day 12: 0 / 0 / 20 Performed 70% water change later that day

    Day 16: 0 / 0 / 5 Today

    Water still appears very clear.

    All fish active and have a good appetite. They continue to dig! Ha


    Fish usually get a small feeding twice a day, then I will skip a day, once every 5 - 7 days.

    I have been feeding mainly Spirulina Flake + Veggie Wafers that I break into smaller pieces. Every couple of days I change up their diet and they will get Premium Color Max Flake and mini Ultimate Pellets from Ken's Fish and/or Omega One's Super Color Pellets.

    Twice they have received a slice of cucumber, which both the Mbuna and the Synodontis Multipunctatus will nibble at. Probably will give them some more cucumber today.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2019
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Day 19: did not test water parameters, performed substrate vac while replacing 8 gallons (15%) water. The canister's spray bar has been doing a good job at blowing detritus and uneaten food off the substrate.

    Also had to move around and grade the sand level again, since the mbuna are moving it around to a point where they are exposing the sun shade screen placed atop the UGF.

    Day 22: 0 / 0 / 40 today, performed 70% water change afterwards.

    It is possible the nitrate spike could be from the mbuna continually disturbing the sand bed and exposing the screen above the UGF, allowing excess water to flow through the plenum, though this is only speculation.....

    All mbuna have grown and colored up more since their arrival.

    20190729_163708.

    20190729_163553.

    20190729_163535.






     
  17. MrBryan723

    MrBryan723Well Known MemberMember

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    What are your stocking levels in the tank? Also, how long have you had it set up for now? I know it takes many months for the anoxic bacteria to grow. I've been dosing nitrates to mine and my readings are still @ 0 but my plants are looking better and better. I'm curious because I know plants don't work well with africans so I'm assuming you are just using a plenum for your process.
    I have 4 bristlenose plecos, 4 rams, a betta, 3 adf, 2 shrimp, 2 clown loaches, and an undetermined amount of earthworms and macrofauna in a well planted tank.
     
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    Islandvic

    IslandvicWell Known MemberMember

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    Today marks 25 days, so not even a full month.

    Originally had 15 Mbuna + 1 syndontis multipunctatus, all juvies 1.75" - 2.5".

    I lost one Mbuna due to trauma injury related to a small rock slide slide incident. The green mbweca and maingano enjoy excavating the sand more than I thought they would.....

    Yesterday I pulled 2 juvie dwarf petricola syndontis and 3 africans from QT and placed them in the 55g. No drama as of yet from the new additions.

    Yeah, I figured I may not start seeing any nitrate reductions until at least 60 days or more, if my contraption even works.... I have been contemplating how to throw a couple of anubias in there, without the Mbuna uprooting them.

    Possibly a clay pot and a piece of plastic craft mesh as a "lid" to keep them from digging into the pot?
     
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