Testing: Nano-Bubbles

Micro nano bubbles for saltwater aquariumsRecently, the folks in my area got enamored with the topic of “nano‐bubbles” for the reef tank. Being a curious engineer and avid tinkerer of tanks, I jumped right in to test it for myself.

So what are nano‐bubbles and what is the concept being prescribed? Well, there are many sources online that talk about the benefits of nano‐bubbles in various applications, from water and food processing to cleaning applications such as wastewater treatment. But with respect to our hobby, one site, Elegant Corals LLC, had been promoting the benefits of running “micro‐scrubbing bubbles” in the reef tank for some time. You can check out their Facebook page for the claimed benefits.

Process

The basic process, in short, is to produce the smallest bubbles possible and inject them into the main tank via the return pump. Wooden airstones are placed just before the inlet of the sump return pump, and the amount of bubbles is controlled by adjusting the distance from the airstone to the inlet. The key to gauge the correct distance and amount of air bubbles is to have no water splashing from bubbles at the surface. For the first week, you turn on the air pump, ideally placed close to a source of fresh air, for 8 hours every night. After week one, it reduces to just 4 hours per night.

Just to name a few of the claimed benefits that I could see for myself:

  1. Higher oxygen content to help increase pH
  2. Helps corals clean themselves by shedding the slime layer, which results in better polyp extension
  3. Increased aerobic bacteria bio activity
  4. Clearer water

The funny thing is, I was already getting many of these benefits in my system prior to introducing this method. I already plumbed a fresh air line to my main skimmer input, so I already stabilized my pH as much as I could from that. My Acropora already had decent polyp extension and color from maintaining my water parameters and providing the proper nutrients.

Finally, I already had an ozone generator on my system and had been monitoring ORP, which I know, from reading Randy Holmes‐Farley’s “ORP and the Reef Aquarium,” is the measure and balance between oxidizers and reducers in the water.

So, as an engineer, I like numbers. Many of the above benefits are still subjective and anecdotal for the most part. I recorded data readings via my controller and the permanent probes I can monitor 24 hours per day (conductivity, pH, and ORP).

Preliminary observations

After running this method for a couple of weeks, the only noticeable measurable outcome I can relate is that when the air pump for the airstone went on at midnight each night, the ORP levels rose. The first few nights, my Acropora colonies did slime up a bit from the bubbles but have reduced ever since as a visual improvement.

My data below confirms Randy’s findings with the inverse relationship between ORP and pH.
Neptune Systems Apex pH and ORP graph

The only quantifiable measure is that nano‐bubbles act as a “poor man’s ozone generator.” Since oxygen (O2) is also a fairly high oxidizer, it does the same as ozone (O3), which is listed as an even higher-level oxidizer. So I would equate the benefits of this process to those of injecting ozone into the reef system.

These benefits I clearly witnessed when I ran the ozone generator into my skimmer for the first time a few summers ago. I did this since I heard it would address the cyanobacteria issue I had on my sand. The change was literally a night-and-day difference. My water was clearer, even though I did not run any carbon overnight, and my cyanobacteria patch dissipated. As the days went by, my ORP level rose from a low of 200 mV to around 375 mV. These days, it barely turns on anymore. I also don’t notice as much dark detritus in my substrate anymore. This may be related to increased bacterial activity helping to break it down.

Test conclusion

Overall, I conclude that nano‐bubbles provide benefits similar to those of an ozone generator. The process is simple and cheap with no downsides that I’ve seen in my system thus far. Maybe the next big trend is monitoring oxygen levels in the water.

Photo credits: Emily Churchill, Ellery Wong

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About Ellery Wong

Ellery is a mechanical systems engineer at a Fortune 500 technology company. He has professional automation experience in the automotive, appliance, printing and robotics industries, as well as over 25 years as a saltwater aquarium hobbyist. He currently maintains a 365-gallon SPS/LPS system while regularly traveling for work, which presents a variety of challenges he enjoys tackling.

Comments

  1. Higher oxygen content to help increase pH
    Helps corals clean themselves by shedding the slime layer, which results in better polyp extension
    Increased aerobic bacteria bio activity
    Clearer water

    All achievable and more using a simple device called an Oxydator. Forget limewood air stones, electricity and pumps. I discovered the benefits of using hydrogen peroxide broken down into it’s component parts consisting of water and oxygen, around 30 years ago. The device is extremely simple to operate, cheap, it’s completely silent, cheap to run and the benefits many are experiencing are to be read all over the net. Oxydators have been used in the UK for years with great results. Many people are reporting increased polyp extension, clearer water, increased water quality and raised redox along with reduced or eliminated nuisance algae like cyno. The only amazing thing is why more reefers aren’t using them. .

    • James Wisniewski says:

      This is the first I’ve heard of Oxydators. I’ve been reading about it since your reply but what I don’t find is placement on larger tanks. Can it be put in the sump and does it have to go in the main tank like the nano ?

      • I have a 100 gallon reef with sump and have 2 Oxydators A models in my sump. Which work well there lol. I alternate filling them each lasts about 10 days before they need refilling. I have written a number of articles on their use in marine aquariums both fish only and reef.

        • James Wisniewski says:

          Thanks for your reply Les. I have a 75 gal w/20 gal sump. I’ve been reading as much as possible this morning. I have one in my cart @ Saltwater Conversion, do you get your 35% Hydrogen Peroxide online ?
          If you would link to your articles on this subject I would love to read them.
          Thanks for your time.
          James Wisniewski

          • Articles are on various .com sites you have to subscribe to and on Facebook groups inc my own FB group. There is an extensive report in Albert Thiel’s nano book I am not sure I can even put links up to any of them on here.

  2. Jay Hemdal says:

    Just a point of clarification; it isn’t the “higher oxygen” levels that increase the pH of the water, rather it is the lower carbon dioxide level.

    • Jay – Yes you are correct – my Bad… CO2 in liquids, ie Calcium reactors or carbonating soda, make the liquid more acidic and dissipating that would help with maintaining alkalinity.

  3. BTW Oxydators do not remove CO2 as such but reduce those elements that help create it. I introduced Albert Thiel to Oxydators a couple of years ago and now he says he wouldn’t set up a tank without one having experienced the positive effects they have had on his reef tanks. I also helped him write his section in his book about them.

    • They reduce carbon and oxygen? I am confused. Is there any quantification on the positive effects you mention?

      • Plenty online, Google is your friend as other have researched

        • Sorry, what reduces carbon and oxygen micro bubbles?

          • You wrote “BTW Oxydators do not remove CO2 as such but reduce those elements that help create it. ” Are you saying they reduce Carbon and Oxygen? If not, what elements do they reduce?

            I cannot find any quantitive reports of any positive effects you mention via google, just peiole saying there were positive effects. If you have something more than that I sure would like to see it.

          • Am a hobbyist not a scientist and have been using and observing the positive effects of Oxydators on my aquariums not just me of course but many more in Europe and indeed now the USA. I am surprised you can’t find the evidence you require and I most certainly didn’t suggest Oxydators reduce oxygen perhaps you could explain that.

            Here are a few links which might be of interest however.
            http://www.aquariumoxygenator.com/

            http://oxydator.de/en/

          • “Am a hobbyist not a scientist and have been using and observing the positive effects of Oxydators on my aquariums not just me of course but many more in Europe and indeed now the USA. I am surprised you can’t find the evidence you require”

            Me too. Unless of course the only support is that people say things look better, and have nothing quantitive to back that up.

            “Higher oxygen content to help increase pH” How much higher, how big an increase? How do you know? How was oxygen measured? If they weren’t measured, how do you know the oxygen was higher and the pH increased? You can’t see either.
            “Helps corals clean themselves by shedding the slime layer, which results in better polyp extension” How do you know that shedding the slime layer is good? How do you know that polyp extension is related to health?
            “Increased aerobic bacteria bio activity” How is this measured? How do you know it is increased”
            “Clearer water” How is this measured?

            “and I most certainly didn’t suggest Oxydators reduce oxygen perhaps you could explain that.”. You wrote “BTW Oxydators do not remove CO2 as such but reduce those elements that help create it. ” The elements that make create CO2 are carbon and oxygen, so if oxydators remove the elements that create CO2, they remove carbon and oxygen…maybe I am not understanding what you were trying to say. What were you trying to say?

            “Here are a few links which might be of interest however.
            http://www.aquariumoxygenator.com/

            http://oxydator.de/en/

            Nothing useful there…just advertising stuff.

          • 1/ I have a PH meter.
            2/ I have an oxygen test kit
            3/ I had a laboratory redox menter for a week.
            4/ I have eyes.
            5/ Many others report similar findings.
            6/ for me the above is enough sorry if it’s not for you.

          • Am surprised you could only find “advertising stuff” on the site perhaps you could look again as there is information on how Oxydators work along with how hydrogen peroxide is broken down into it’s component parts H20 and O2 along with the processes involved together with the effects on the substrate etc.Many people have added peroxide direct to the aquarium as I am sure you will know and witnessed it’s affect on the likes of cyno. Oxydators simply administer peroxide in a far safer way by breaking it down using a catalyst. All leading the information is there is not just advertising blurb. I have been using and witnessing how Oxydators assist my aquariums for around 30 years now but am not the only one of course. Maybe if you would care to write to the company asking specific questions and requesting multiple scientific case studies they would be of assistance. Like I state and like many hobbiest there is limited things I can do or indeed willing to do other than to experiment in a limited way but my 30 years of using Oxydators have convinced6me of their worth.

          • Les – it is strange that you can just answer questions. You have made a ton of specific claims and then not backed them up. I didn’t ask anything about how Oxydators work.
            Hey, I have seen a ton of people and articles say that Oxydators don’t work and have killed their animals. Google if your friend.

        • You wrote “BTW Oxydators do not remove CO2 as such but reduce those elements that help create it. ” Are you saying they reduce Carbon and Oxygen? If not, what elements do they reduce? If they do” reduce anything what are you saying?

          • No I am.not saying the reduce oxygen but add it. I find it incredible you seem to think I might be suggesting such and makes me think you have not looked into how Oxydators work. I have not seen any posts suggesting Oxydators kill any animals we wish to keep but if it did then I can only assume it is being used incorrectly as it is similar to ozone in many ways. I can answer any questions as I have many times on using Oxydators and there are many people who swear by their use including Albert Thiel amongst others. I rely on my 30vyears using Oxydators not advertising blurb. Thank you for your interest in the subject but if you are looking for something you consider more meaningful than my experience then perhaps you could do as I suggest and write to the company. Like I say I only have my experiences witnessed over around 30 years and a dozen or so reef aquariums I have employed Oxydators in. I am sorry if that’s not enough for you.

          • Les wrote “BTW Oxydators do not remove CO2 as such but reduce those elements that help create it.” What does this mean?

  4. Another BTW for larger tanks you can used the model W designed for ponds but work equality as well in larger marine systems including sumps.

  5. d

    • Hi Pedro!

      I appreciate the feedback and questions. I will try to answer some of them… Believe me I am just as skeptical as you so hence I had to try it for myself but please understand I only have the base hobby level equipment too. This was not meant to be a scientific study by any means. If I had the time and money to do a full scale Design of Experiments to test all factors and interactions I would since that’s basically what I do for work on complex mechanical systems. Then again I would need the assistance of a professional Chemist as well to understand the interactions that result from it.

      “Higher oxygen content to help increase pH” How much higher, how big an increase? How do you know? How was oxygen measured? If they weren’t measured, how do you know the oxygen was higher and the pH increased? You can’t see either.
      – [EW] Jay Hemdal helped me clarify that the pH is not necessarily the increasing of oxygen levels but the dissipation of CO2 that helps with maintaining alkalinity. If you look at my pH Graph the bubbling starts at midnight and peaks but then starts dropping after the bubbling stops till the next cycle. I wouldn’t go be the exact nominal value you see but just the trend. I’m sure my equipment is not 100% lab grade and calibrated enough to use the values.
      – As far as oxygen level goes it was more the ORP trends of adding an oxidizer similar to that of me dosing CO3 (ozone) that’s where I saw the similarities in addition to understanding O2 (oxygen) is a fairly high oxidizer itself.

      “Helps corals clean themselves by shedding the slime layer, which results in better polyp extension” How do you know that shedding the slime layer is good?
      [EW] similar to that of soft corals slime is a method of eliminating waste off it’s surface. Contaminants on the coral skin over time would kill that area as seen when detritus settles on you acropora colony inside the body and suffocates it so that part dies. Acropora exist in high flow regions that rarely have that level of settling. Also many corals that are on the reef shore during low tide slime to protect themselves as well when exposed to air and contaminants. This slime eventually gets washed away with the tide.

      How do you know that polyp extension is related to health?
      [EW] Polyp extension is basically a good indicator of health because it is a feeding response. If you compare to anemones or LPS the tentacles come out during feeding. SPS polyps are similar to small anemones. If the organism doesn’t eat it’s not happy and not going to grow.

      “Increased aerobic bacteria bio activity” How is this measured? How do you know it is increased”
      [EW] This one I can’t honestly answer with a quantitative measure but just a subjective comparison to when I dosed something similar to Microbacter 7 and see that the detritus levels in my substrate don’t accumulate as much anymore and I don’t even vacuum my substrate.

      “Clearer water” How is this measured?
      [EW] I use a PAR Meter for light penetration at a common reference spot in the tank and a common light reference setting. Or a simple subjective check (as BRS shows in their video) the water tint comparison in a white 5 gallon bucket. I have significantly reduced the amount of GAC I have used since I’ve added my Ozone generator. My goal was to reduce the amount of consumables I need to purchase.

      I hope this clarifies some of your questions, thanks for reading and commenting.
      All in all it’s always good to ask questions – that’s how we all learn and share knowledge in this hobby we all are so passionate about!

  6. Those questions were for Les about Oxydators, not for you, but thanks.
    I think you have jumped to a lot of conclusions that are iffy in your response.
    Both you and Les said something about not being scientists or doing scientific level stuff, but i never asked for that, so I am confused by that move.
    Thanks for the discussion!

  7. Quote ” Is there any quantification on the positive effects you mention?”
    All depends on what you term or accept as “qualification” Like I say if 30 years experience on around 12 reef aquariums is not enough for you then what is. EG my tank water looks quite clear I then add an Oxydator or to notice in a short time say 24 hours the water sparkles. I have done such many times. I have good polyp extension on my SPS. I add an Oxydator and notice an even greater expansion of polyps. I have had small patches of cyno on the sand or corals. I add an Oxydator and the cyno has disappeared within a few days. My fish are healthy never get white spot live long lives and my pairs and groups breed. I have never quarantined a fish in 3o years and never had a problem with them. You can call all this incidental. luck, hearsay or whatever you may wish. My aquariums are my proving ground and stand as a testament to my success over many years and I firmly believe Oxydators have aided that success. Others report similar findings I am not alone in my experience or observations. Finally, I am begging to find your tone and line of questioning offensive so forgive me if I say no more on the subject. I hope whatever it is you are looking for you find it. I remain.

    • Thanks! That is all good first person report, and little to do with what I am asking for. If someone says that pH went up, we need to know how much. If they say DO went up we need to know how much. The answer ‘no, there is no quantification to the positive effects mentioned’ is a perfectly respectable answer, and I don’t get why.

      I am very confused. I am asking straightforward questions and somehow I am being offensive. I am begging you to stop reading that kind of thing into my asking people to support the statements they make.

      • Sorry – the last sentence of that first paragraph should read “The answer ‘no, there is no quantification to the positive effects mentioned’ is a perfectly respectable answer, and I don’t get why people won’t just say that’

  8. gettaReef says:

    I’d like to jump on this bandwagon (start running micro bubbles in sump to display). First, what power of air pump is suggested like in liters per minute LPM (my system is 75gallons). Also, I’ve seen it suggested to run them at night. How long should I start running the air pump each night? Should I increase/decrease that time (depending on what exactly?)? AND I know it is suggested to have the air pump inlet tubing be outside to bring in fresh air, but is this absolutely necessary? This would be difficult for me to do. Thank you for your input!

    • Hi gettaReef!

      Thanks for the comment…. I am using just a Tetra 26075 Whisper Aquarium Air Pump AP150 with a Lee’s Wooden Air Diffuser, 3-Inch anchored with a rock near the sump pump return inlet. I am not running the air to external air per se but my Protein Skimmer does have the air supplied by an external hose.
      The forums I have read indicated to start week#1 at 8 hours/each night after the lights go out and then just 4 hours for following weeks. I saw my corals sliming only on the first few days and then they seem normal afterwards.

      The key is positioning your air stone so that it’s just close enough for the return pump to suck in some of the “micro-bubbles” so that when they exit your return you’ll see some bubbles in the tank but not too much that they just rise and cause water splash at the surface which will enable alot of salt creep which you don’t want. The “Micro-bubbles” supposedly stay in the water longer.

      At minimum it should help with maintaining pH “by dissipating CO2″ in the water. Usually a symptom in alot of the well insulated homes today that don’t have fresh Air venting.

      Let me know what your results look like. If you have an APEX controller with a pH and ORP probe it would be neat to get some more data points to at least compare the trends.

      • gettaReef says:

        Thanks for the reply and information. I do have an Apex with ph probe (but no orp probe yet). Will let you know if it effects ph any and any other observations

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