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Natural Nitrate and Phosphate Control in Marine Aquariums – Part 2 – Biopellets

KatalystIn Part 1 of this article, I talked about Carbon Dosing, and the principals and some of the products on the market that are being used in this method of natural nitrate and phosphate control.  You can read the first article for all the details, but for a quick review of what carbon dosing is all about, here are the basics.

By providing (dosing) a usable carbon source, the aquarist can increase the uptake of Nitrate and Phosphate by bacteria in the aquarium, and reduce the overall level of Nitrate and Phosphate in the aquarium to desired levels.  Maintaining this low nutrient system, improves the overall health of the system, eliminates nuisance algae, and promotes brilliant coloration in corals. Another benefit to this increased bacteria population, also referred to as bacterioplankton, is that it serves as a supplemental food source for corals and filter feeding invertebrates. Carbon sources that are used for dosing have traditionally been vodka, vinegar, sugar or commercially available products like Brightwell Aquatics Reef Bio Fuel, or Red Sea’s NO4-Px.  While effective, these sources of carbon must be added on regular basis (every day in most cases) and dosage levels are achieved largely on a trial and error basis.

Now that we understand the basics of carbon dosing, we can talk about Biopellets, which are a really cool thing.  Many people are intimidated by Vodka dosing, don’t have the time for it, or just don’t want to deal with daily dosing (I would include myself in that group, for the record). Biopellets solve these problems!  Biopellets are a bioreactive filtration media, which replaces vodka as the carbon source in carbon dosing systems. As the name suggests, Biopellets are a pelletized form of a biodegradable polymer, which provides both an ideal surface environment for bacterial growth, and a readily available carbon source for the bacteria to consume.  There are several materials used by biopellet manufacturers to creare these interesting products. All the materials are naturally produced polyester products, which are completely biodegradeable, synthesized by bacteria. The bacteria consume the pellets over a period of months, eliminating the need for daily dosing to feed them.  TFP currently carries the Two Littles Fishies product NPX Bioplastics, and the Brightwell Aquatics Biopellet product Katalyst.

Biopellets are best used in a media reactor, like the Two Little Fishies Phosban Reactor or the Next Reef MR1 reactors.The tumbling action of a media reactor causes excess bacteria to slough off the pellets, and the free floating bacterioplankton will serve as a supplemental food source for corals and filter feeding invertebrates in the aquarium, or will be removed by your protein skimmer.

KatalystTo maximize the benefit of using biopellets, supplement the system with a beneficial bacterial source.  Brightwell Aquatics Microbacter is the bacteria of choice for many, and provides a mixture of bacteria strains, to make sure that the additional carbon source is feeding a wanted consumer, not undesirable cyanobacteria.

As with all carbon dosing programs, use of a protein skimmer, ideally a high efficiency oversized unit, is mandatory for removal of the nitrate and phosphate rich bacterial growth.  I would not recommend use of a carbon dosing system, without a good skimmer.  If you want to see some of the dramatic results and get more detailed information about Carbon Dosing, and Biopellets, I would highly recommend visiting some of the reef forums on the web.   Reef Central in particular has a wealth of information and user photos to look at and read through.

Check them out, Biopellets are a cool thing, and as always, let me know if youo have any questions about the process or any of these products.



About Dave Acland

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After graduating from Coastal Carolina University with a BS in Marine Science in 1996, I started my professional career in 1997 as an aquarist at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, SC. This was an amazing experience, in which I gained invaluable hands on training in exhibit design and construction, as well as husbandry skills for a wide range of animals. In 2000 I started working at That Fish Place as one of the staff Marine Biologists, with the responsibility of maintaining one of the largest retail fish holding systems in the world. I presently hold the position of Director of Aquatic Science, where I oversee the operation of our 35,000 gallon retail aquarium systems, and provide technical support for our mail-order and retail store customer service staff. As an aquatic product specialist, I also provide support for our purchasing and marketing departments, as well as contribute web content and analysis. As a Hobbyist I acquired my love of aquariums from my father who was keeping a large aquarium in early 70’s, and set up my first aquarium when I was 12 years old. I have now been keeping aquariums for over 35 years, and through this time have kept more aquariums and types of fish than I can remember. I set up my first Saltwater aquarium in 1992, which led me down the path I still follow today.