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DIY Sulfur Denitrate Reactor

Life happens to the best of us, and algae outbreaks usually follow.  Within the last year, I had a kid, started back to school, and worked full time.  Needless to say, my aquariums (and this site!) felt the neglect.  To add to the pain, both of my Vortech MP-40 pumps, Apex controller, two heaters, and four skimmer pumps all died.  I also forgot to change out my remote deep sand bed (RDSB) in all the craziness.  As you can imagine, I had a terrible algae outbreak.  I needed to remove the RDSB, which would spike the nutrient levels.  And, I didn’t have my skimmer working again yet.  So, I decided to build a sulfur denitrate reactor!

This post (and recovering tank) is due to the ingenious design of my friend Jeff (Krazie4Acans).  I was going to either buy or make a ridiculous reactor.  But, I didn’t want to spend $300+, and I honestly didn’t have time to design my own.  Instead, he recommended his incredibly simple and inexpensive design.  So if this post helps you, please give him a shout-out in the comments!  (And yes, he did give me permission to post his design in order to help others!)

I’m going to leave out the theory behind this build since this post is long enough.  If you decide to build one of these, please do your research first.  These reactors do reduce nitrites/nitrates well, but they are not a magic solution.

So, safety first.  Find a pair of safety glasses!  You will also want to work in a well-ventilated area while you cement the pieces together.  Basic plumbing skills are necessary.  Read through the instructions at least once before you begin!

Supplies:

  • Pelleted Live Sulfur Media (Used CaribSea’s LSM, ~$25)
  • Calcium Reactor Media (Used Tropic Eden’s, ~$18)
  • SeaChem’s Matrix (Optional, ~$6)
  • AquaLifter Pump (Or other small pump, ~$16)
  • MaxiJet 1200 Pump (~$20)
  • Bulk Reef Supply Reactor (~$35, other brands will work with modification)
  • All-purpose Cement
  • 1/2″ CPVC (NOT PVC!)
  • 1/2″ CPVC Ball Valve
  • 1/2″ CPVC Elbow
  • Water Line Tubing (1/4″)
  • 1/4″ OD x 3/8″ MNPT Quick-Connect Adapters (2)
  • Ball Valve
  • Scale
  • 3/8″ Pipe Thread tap
  • Teflon Tape
  • PVC Cutter
  • Utility Knife
  • Drill and drill bit

Instructions:

1.  First, take the impeller cover off the MaxiJet 1200 pump.  Set the pump aside for now, but keep the cover handy.

MaxiJet 1200

MaxiJet 1200

2.  Take the lid off of the reactor.  This is a really old Bulk Reef Supply reactor (I think) that has a pressure relief valve (red button).  A pressure relief valve is not really necessary for this design, but it is still handy if you have one prebuilt into the reactor.  You’ll need this lid now to measure the length of CPVC pieces.

Reactor Lid

Reactor Lid

3.  Roughly cut two pieces of CPVC.  Grab the CPVC elbow now.

CPVC Pieces

CPVC Pieces

4.  You’ll also need the CPVC ball valve.

Ball Valve

Ball Valve

5.  Dry fit one of the pieces of CPVC into the inlet side of the Maxijet cover.  It should be a perfect fit.  If not, you may need to get creative.

Dry Fit the Cover and CPVC

Dry Fit the Cover and CPVC

6.  If you flip the Maxijet cover up with the CPVC in the inlet, you’ll notice that the inner diameter of the CPVC is not a great transition to the MJ cover.  So, carefully bore out the center of one of the pieces of CPVC on one end.  Jeff did this part by shaving the inside with a bottle opener on his pocket knife.  Whatever you use, just be careful.  If you would rather skip this step, no one will know.  This step just helps the water flow better into the pump, reduce turbulence, increase efficiency, and prolong the life of the pump (ok, that sounds pretty important after all).

Bore Out the CPVC on One Side

Bore Out the CPVC on One Side

7.  Put the bored-out CPVC back into the cover inlet.  Now add the ball valve onto the CPVC piece.

Dry Fit Ball Valve

Dry Fit Ball Valve

8.  Add the other piece of CPVC into the ball valve.

Add another piece of CPVC

Add another piece of CPVC

9.  Add the elbow to the piece of CPVC.

Add the Elbow

Add the Elbow

10.  Add an end piece to the elbow.  Many reactors will actually take a piece of 1/2″ CPVC, but mine required a piece of 3/8″ tubing.

Add an End Piece

Add an End Piece

11.  The MaxiJet outlet should plug directly into the inlet of the reactor lid.  The other piece of tubing should plug directly into the outlet side of the reactor lid.  The ball valve should be centered on the lid.  Take apart the assembly and trim pieces to fit where necessary.

Reactor Lid

Reactor Lid

12.  Once everything dry fit together properly, it is time to start cementing with an all-purpose cement (make sure your area is well-ventilated).

All-Purpose Cement

All-Purpose Cement

13.  Cement the CPVC with the bored-out end into the MaxiJet cover.  Do not cement it into the reactor lid yet!

Cementing the Pieces

Cementing the Pieces

14.  Then cement the other end of the CPVC into the ball valve.

Cementing the Pieces

Cementing the Pieces

15.  Cement the other piece of CPVC into the other end of the ball valve.

Cementing the Pieces

Cementing the Pieces

16.  Cement on the elbow.

Cementing the Pieces

Cementing the Pieces

17.  Cement on the end piece.  Do not cement it into the reactor lid yet!

Cementing the Pieces

Cementing the Pieces

18.  Remove the plumbing assembly and allow it to set on the side.  Grab the quick-connect adapters.

Adapter

Adapter

Quick-Connect Adapters

Quick-Connect Adapters

19.  Wrap the threaded ends of the adapters with Teflon tape a few times.

Teflon Tape on Adapter

Teflon Tape on Adapter

20.  Start the holes where the water inlet and outlet will go.  The inlet will go on the inlet-side of the reactor lid, and the outlet will go on the outlet-side of the reactor lid.  Below is shown with the outlet-side started.

Starting the Hole with a Drill

Starting the Outlet Hole with a Drill

21.  Use the thread tap to make a threaded through-hole.  Below is shown with the inlet-side in progress and the outlet-side complete.

Threading the Holes

Threading the Holes

22.  Cement the outlet-side of the MaxiJet into the inlet side of the reactor.  Cement the other plumbing end into the outlet side of the reactor lid.  Screw in the quick-connect adapters.  Let the system cure for at least 24 hours.

Top of the Reactor

Top of the Reactor

23.  Get the LSM, a scale, and a calculator.  Multiply your water volume by 0.006.  For instance, I have approximately 200 gallons in my system (150 gallon main display with ~50g sump).  The equation is 200*0.006=1.2.  The result is approximately how much sulfur media you will need in pounds.  I decided to only use one pound of media.  Zero the scale with a container (I used a Solo cup).

Live Sulfur Media

Live Sulfur Media 

Scale

Scale

Adding LSM

Non-Zeroed Scale

Zeroing the Scale

Zeroing the Scale

Measuring the LSM

Measuring the LSM

24.  Add a mixture of LSM and Matrix (optional) to the inlet area of the canister.  I use the Matrix to increase the amount of surface area for bacteria.  Denitrate reactors are usually limited by the amount of bacteria, not sulfur.  The Matrix theoretically increases the effectiveness of the reactor by allowing more bacteria to live.

SeaChem Matrix

SeaChem Matrix 

Matrix with LSM

Matrix with LSM

25.  Top the sulfur media with calcium reactor media.  Water after going through the sulfur is low in pH.  The water will then flow through the calcium reactor media.  The low pH water dissolves the calcium aragonite and raises the pH to a safer level.  Essentially, this denitrator is also a calcium reactor.  It will not add a lot of calcium to your tank, but it will add some.  I tried to use as much aragonite in volume as LSM.

Tropic Eden Reactor Media

Tropic Eden Reactor Media

LSM with Calcium Reactor Media

LSM with Calcium Reactor Media

26.  Set the canister aside for now.  Grab the water line tubing.

Water Line Tubing

Water Line Tubing

27.  Run the water line tubing from your tank into the AquaLifter pump.

AquaLifter Pump

AquaLifter Pump

28.  Run the pump outlet line into the water inlet side of the reactor.

Inlet Line

Inlet Line

29.  Add a small piece of tubing into the quick-connect adapter.

Output Line

Output Line

30.  Add the ball valve.

Valve

Valve

Outlet Control Valve

Outlet Control Valve

31.  Add tubing from the outlet side of the control valve to the tank.

Adjusting the Valve

Adjusting the Valve

32.  Below is the completed reactor!  Open the ball valves completely, and run at least a gallon of tank water through the system.  Dispose of this water.  Close the outlet control valve (in blue).  The MaxiJet should just be circulating the water through the canister.

Completed Reactor

Completed Reactor

33.  Test the tank’s nitrites and nitrates.

34.  Adjust the control valve so that one drop enters the tank every 4 seconds.  This may be difficult (the control valve I used is not the most accurate or precise).  Run at one drop per every four seconds for five days.

35.  Test the effluent (reactor output) for nitrites and nitrates.

36.  If the test detects any nitrite, leave the reactor at the 1 drop per 4 seconds rate for another day.  However, if the test detects no nitrites but some nitrates, increase the flow to 1 drop per 3 seconds.  Wait another day.

37.  Test the effluent again.  If the nitrates dropped, increase the drip rate to 1 drop every 2 seconds.  If the nitrates didn’t drop or actually increased, leave the drip rate alone.

38.  After 24 hours, test again.  If the nitrates dropped, increase the drip rate to 1 drop every second.  If the nitrates didn’t drop or actually increased, leave the drip rate alone for another 24 hours.

39.  After 24 hours, test again.  If the nitrates dropped, increase the drip rate to 1 drop every second (if not already at that rate).  Leave the drip rate at 1 drop every second until the nitrates reach 0.

40.  Once the nitrates reach 0, increase the drip rate until nitrates reappear.

41.  If a rotten egg smell appears, increase the flow.

42.  When the nitrates stay at 0 and/or when the algae is gone, you can remove the reactor.  If the control valve is fully open, and there is still a rotten egg smell, remove some of the sulfur media.

43.  Thank Jeff (Krazie4Acans) for this simple design!

 

2 comments

  1. Jerry

    Very Nice and Detailed!
    Thanks

    1. admin

      Thank you!

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