Paletta on Protein Skimming | Reef Builders


By the years I’ve seen marine aquarium filtration go from beneath gravel filters by means of canister filters after which trickle filters, all producing varied ranges of success. However the one filtration technique that actually modified filtration was when the pastime shifted to utilizing protein skimming. Though it has been round because the early Seventies, it was not till the late Nineteen Eighties that it actually caught on in North America. Previous to its introduction in what got here to be generally known as the ”Berlin technique”, trickle filters and their nitrate manufacturing unit tendencies had been all the fashion. A part of this was resulting from up till then we had been primarily holding tender corals and so they had been much less demanding of low vitamins than had been sps corals in order that they had been sufficient. Nevertheless, as soon as the pastime shifted to keeping Acropora, Montipora, and different sps corals a greater technique of filtration wanted to be discovered. Thus, protein skimming grew to become the one piece of apparatus that almost everybody within the pastime wanted to have on their tank. 

What’s a protein skimmer?

For these of you coming from the freshwater aspect of the pastime, the protein skimmer is a brand new piece of apparatus as it’s not utilized in freshwater tanks and it doesn’t do a lot in freshwater programs. So, what precisely is a protein skimmer, how does it work and why is it thought-about important in a reef tank? As famous in Peter Wilkens’ 1972 guide “The Saltwater Aquarium for Tropical Marine Invertebrates” again in 1967 an ingenious aquarist named G. Huckstedt developed the straightforward idea of the protein skimmer after observing how scum fashioned in his tank after feeding the place heavy aeration was going down. With out understanding the physics or chemistry behind it, he developed the concept of including a scum cup to a tube the place managed aeration occurred permitting for the brown sludge he had seen to be readily collected. Thus was born the primary protein skimmer. 

Electrostatic attraction

Saltwater has completely different properties than freshwater in that resulting from its salt composition it’s electrically charged. Protein skimmers work by having dissolved substances, primarily proteins, connect to air bubbles through this electrostatic attraction. In a protein skimmer, or foam fractionator, that time period isn’t used now, effective air bubbles are produced and run in opposition to the tank water in a column or chamber. Throughout this publicity to the bubbles, substances adhere to the bubbles and float to the floor producing a “scum”. Because the proteins and different compounds proceed to gather the scum will get thicker and finally rises to the floor and finally it flows excessive and right into a scum assortment cup. In a correctly functioning skimmer, the scum within the cup will seem in two layers. The primary layer will include reasonably massive bubbles with minimal materials adhering to it and can look moist. Above this can be a second thicker layer of scum that can be considerably darker and can include extra of the collected materials to be skimmed off. This skimmed-off materials adjustments markedly from the tank water as soon as it’s skimmed off in that not solely does it include larger ranges of dissolved organics and proteins, however it additionally has a considerably decrease pH. 

Proteins and compounds connect to the bubbles and acquire to make a scum.

Compound removing

Whereas a protein skimmer has earned its title by extracting dissolved proteins and amino acids from tank water, it additionally removes many different compounds which come to stick or be dissolved in these proteins. These different compounds embrace algae spores, micro organism, phytoplankton, fat, carbohydrates fatty acids, phenols, detritus, and phosphate. The aim of utilizing a protein skimmer is to have it take away these compounds earlier than they break down and foul the aquarium. The breaking down of those compounds requires oxygen, so their removing by the skimmer additionally lessens the oxygen demand within the tank whereas it additional provides dissolved oxygen by means of its effervescent motion. Along with the removing of those compounds, there may be proof that protein skimming additionally removes trace elements such as iodide, copper, iron, zinc, and another metals all of which might be complexed with proteins. So when a skimmer is functioning correctly the degrees of those hint components must be examined for. 

Protein skimmer effectivity

There are a variety of things that may have an effect on the effectivity of a skimmer. Firstly is contact time. That’s the longer the air bubbles are in touch with the water the extra environment friendly the skimmer can be at extracting compound through their adherence to the bubbles. Because of this within the early years of the pastime tall air-driven skimmers had been the mainstay of the pastime. Solely as a result of these had been ugly, onerous to wash and keep, and required massive and loud air pumps had been they changed with trendy Venturi and needle wheel skimmers. The second is bubble dimension. The smaller the bubbles the extra environment friendly the skimmer. This is because of smaller bubbles offering better floor space and due to this fact a better capability to skim. One other issue that impacts effectivity is turbulence. Extra environment friendly skimmers have a tendency to provide much less turbulence, that’s the crashing of air and water in opposition to itself within the chamber, and thus extra skimmate.  After these main components, there are a variety of different variables that may additionally have an effect on skimming. pH has the impact that the upper the pH the extra environment friendly the skimming. It’s because the upper the pH the better the affinity the floor of the bubbles have for natural molecules owing to there being a better electrostatic attraction than happens when the pH is decrease. The precise gravity additionally impacts effectivity as a result of the dissolved salts in seawater improve the steadiness of the tiny bubbles in a skimmer by rising the viscosity. SG additionally impacts {the electrical} cost of the bubbles in addition to the floor stress of the water, each of which impression skimmer effectivity. Temperature additionally has an impact on skimmers in that as temperature will increase floor stress decreases and thus so does skimmer effectivity. However since most of our tank’s temperatures often are saved between 75-80 the results of temperature are very refined. Lastly, air stress can have an effect on skimmers. When a powerful low-pressure entrance strikes by means of skimmers could out of the blue overflow. With much less stress to combat in opposition to it’s simpler for the skimmate to flee the riser tube and overwhelm the scum cup. Because of this, at all times control the climate. 

Needle wheels are the impeller of selection for many trendy protein skimmers.

I’ve used and seen nearly each kind of skimmer out there over time and so they all have labored to some extent or one other. In actual fact, I’m assured in saying no matter the kind of skimmer you employ, all of them take away the identical compounds. That’s the brown gunk that I’ve cleaned from each skimmer is similar no matter whether or not the skimmer was an air-driven one I constructed myself or state-of-the-art costly one bought. This will likely sound controversial that every one skimmers produce the identical consequence however how may they not? All of them do the identical factor in that they expose tank water to tiny air bubbles. And whereas how they do it could be completely different, the top consequence is similar. Backing up my observations is a research achieved by Dr. Ken Feldman in Superior Aquarist journal in 2010 the place to summarize he discovered that every one skimmers he examined for probably the most half take away the identical compounds. 

Two skimmers operating in tandem on the writer’s tank.

Learn how to choose a protein skimmer

Understanding that every one skimmers take away the identical compounds then how do you choose a skimmer on your tank? I now have a look at three issues when selecting a skimmer for my tanks. First, is reliability. How effectively does it skim, how simple is it to regulate and the way lengthy will it final are the components that I first think about. Subsequent is how simple is it to keep up. For this, I think about how simple is it to take away and clear the scum cup and the response chamber. I’ve experimented with cleansing the neck and scum cup from as soon as a day to as soon as per week and have discovered that cleansing each each different day considerably enhances the effectivity of the skimmer by permitting the foam to get in the scum cup more readily when the next is cleaned more often. I do know some skimmers now provide self-cleaning heads that wash and rinse the necks and scum cups a number of instances a day, however I didn’t discover that to be extra environment friendly or cost-effective than cleansing the necks and scum cups each different day. However these models did make life simpler. Subsequent is how typically and the way simple is it to take aside the pump and clear it and the way typically I want to do that. I’ve discovered that doing small upkeep on the pump and chamber each three months is way simpler and fewer time-consuming than a serious overhaul a couple of times a 12 months. Lastly, I have a look at the worth, and the way massive of a tank is a skimmer rated for. I are inclined to get outsized skimmers, that’s skimmers rated for tanks bigger than what they’re rated by the producers for, as my tanks are at all times overstocked. As it’s higher to have the ability to flip a skimmer down than it’s to have one that doesn’t take away sufficient. And from all of the research I’ve learn and my very own expertise, even the perfect skimmers solely take away 60-80% of the specified compounds from a tank. Protein skimmers run the gamut in worth and that’s the reason all the components mentioned must be thought-about earlier than selecting one and never simply worth. 

Go and see a skimmer in motion, earlier than you make investments.

Using protein skimmers has dramatically improved the success of everybody within the pastime. Whereas I’ve seen tanks run efficiently run with out them, I’ve seen way more run with them and likewise consider there’s a larger probability of success when one is used. Whereas they don’t seem to be cheap, models might be discovered to suit nearly each price range and each dimension of tank and software and as with most issues on this pastime, you do get what you pay for with this piece of apparatus. Earlier than deciding on one test them out on-line, in a store, and on a tank. Solely by seeing them in motion and getting an thought of how simple one is to keep up will you make the appropriate selection. And also you don’t wish to purchase one solely to search out out that it’s tough to keep up or clear or must be rapidly changed. This sort of pointless expense is one issue that may drive you from the pastime.  

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