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DIY Reactor from Gatorade bottle.


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Why do we need yet another New Reactor?

So, the question is 'why a new reactor?'

Well, sadly there are few small reactors available. I've been looking at them for some time, hoping someone will solve the myriad of UX (User Experience) issues when trying to use them. For those who don't know, a reactor is simply a chamber where water is forced through media. For many, it's 'good enough' to just lay a bag of activated carbon and/or GFO near the return pump. And having owned this Two Little Fishies Reactor, I've found there is value in actually forcing water through a media substrate-- even for my little tank.

Two_Little_Fishies_NPX_Bioplastics_React

But there are huge problems with this little reactor. The user workflow for changing out and cleaning this reactor is horrendous! First off, a couple of the original design premises were INCORRECT. For instance...

  • Design the reactor so it could work out of the water and hang outside the sump. This reactor is set up to work both inside and outside. Well, I don't think that's such a great idea-- and from what I've read everyone says NOT to do this as you're just adding one more spill element and eventually it will fail and you will flood. And by the look of the rubber connectors, I have to agree. So, I always kept mine in the sump. I think this feature ended up dooming this particular device from the get go.

    This attention to making this reactor work OUTSIDE the sump has serious consequences for the design. One of the biggest is it forces both inlet and outlet out the top, and creates a not so great workflow for changing media. More on that later. Also, in my reactor, the media tended to 'clump' no matter what pressure settings I used. I tried it with both Phosguard and Purigen, and neither could 'bubble' more than a day or two before clumping. I did not try GFO, but I would assume a similar result. If you use this reactor for activated charcoal, then you DON'T want lots of movement in the charcoal as it will rub charcoal dust off and place it in the water column, which many say can be an irritant to corals and fish.

    FWIW, I know there are larger reactors which do work outside sumps-- and they are designed specifically for outside of the sump mounting and operation and seem to work just fine.

  • Design the reactor for loose media. In fact every reactor I know of is designed for loose media, but I think that's problematic for small systems and this reactor. Here's why.

    First off, I've yet to see anyone successfully use Purigen loose in a reactor. Invariably the stuff ends up getting around a filter and spilling out into the sump and display tank, and once that happens you can forget about ever cleaning it up.

    Next, trying to pour media into this reactor is a major headache. You have to be careful not to pour it down the center tube and if you do, you need to pull it apart and start all over. Also, if the media gets 'below' the filter, then you have a major headache as it might just sit there and clump up and limit flow to only one side or the other.

    And cleaning this darn thing is pretty much impossible. Sometimes algae and gunk gets down low in the chamber, and because the bottom doesn't come off, you need extra long cleaning brushes, yet you still cannot get any pressure on the inside of the cylinder at the lower levels.

    Not to mention– what a MESS! Whatever substrate you have, goes everywhere as soon as you open it up as the water is right at the top of cylinder. Not an easy way to drain it because if you turn it over all the media flows out with the water. A huge dadgum mess indeed! And don't even think about trying to capture the media for 'recharging' (as in the case of Purigen). The mess is even compounded further as you try and filter out the gunk and the small beads of Purigen. Ewww.

    So, for me, the easier thing is to purchase a Seachem The Bag media filter bag and use it inside my Reactor design.

    51NTi1QGpKL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

    This bag is great and can hold any type of media, incuding activated carbon, GFO, Phosban, Phosguard, etc.. I also now purchase Purigen in bag format and regenerate it for use over and over.

So here's the old workflow:
  • Turn off the pump going to the Little Fishies reactor.
  • Pull two rubber elbows off of lid while trying NOT to spill or break anything. Those **** elbows are HARD to remove and when you finally pull them off, stuff flies everywhere!
  • Pull the entire reactor OUT of the sump and quickly transfer to a waiting bucket as it's full of water. If you have an ATO, now your sump will start filling up with fresh water and you'll rush over to turn it off while holding the reactor in your hand spilling everything.
  • Try to empty the water out a bit in the bucket so you can handle the wretched thing.
  • For some reason, more often than not, the lid is FUZED onto the reactor and cannot be unscrewed. Often I had to take it to the workshop and literally use a vise and wrenches to carefully 'unlock' it. Sheesh.
  • Empty out all the contents into the bucket, knowing you're not going to save anything. Now you have a bucket full of water and used media...not sure what to do with that. I usually dump the whole mess around the back of my garage.
  • Hose it down while outside because washing in a sink makes even more of a mess and I don't want all that media going into my septic system.
  • And now the hard part. Separate all the parts and start cleaning. You need different cleaning tools for different parts. A long flexible brush can go down the center tube and.. if it's long enough just might clean stuff at the bottom. All the many different parts can be cleaned with a toothbrush except for the acrylic cylinder itself. The best you can do is spray inside it and shake it around. I've tried stuffing a towel into it, but it doesn't do much better.
  • If you can remember which goes with which, assemble it back together.
  • Carefully, CAREFULLY! poor new media into it making sure NONE OF IT goes into the center tube. If it does, pull it all out, clean it again, and start over. Ugh.
  • Now, pray to God you can align the lid with the center tube which is now leaning to one side. Tilt it one way, then the other. If after 15 minutes it's not working, then remove all the media and 're-seat' the center tube. Then put the media back in and try again.
  • If successful, put it back in the tank, plug in both rubber elbow joint thingys, turn on the pump and get busy trying to figure out how out of whack your salinity is with all the water removed.
Ouch.

reactor01.jpg

Here's the expected new workflow with my new reactor:

  • Turn off the pump.
  • Unscrew the top from the bottle, leaving the hose and pump in the sump.
  • Unclip the bottle and lift up. All the water will run out the bottom into the sump.
  • Take to the sink, pop off the bottom and pull out the used bag.
  • Clean the plastic container. It's open on the bottom and the top so it's super easy.
  • Add a new 'bag-o-media' and snap the bottom back on.
  • Place back in sump, screw on top and turn on pump.
Ta da! Sure, it's probably not the best solution ever, but for smaller tanks which want the advantages media reactors provide, it seems a heck of lot simpler and easier.

I'm still tweaking this design and looking for feedback. The empty Gatorade bottle is great as it can easily be replaced if a different inside pressure is required. More on all that later.

As I said, I'd sure like feedback if anyone's interested. Also, I'll try and get Mike a few of these for our ARC members to try out. I'll continue with updates as I learn more.

Edited by chippwalters
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After some review, I think I need a better way to control flow out the bottom. I'm looking into some sort of spin control which can control the amount of time the media stays in contact with the water in the chamber.

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For the TLF 150 I just took 1 square of toilet paper and plugged the center tube when adding media. it works great and I could just dump and go. FWIW

and since it was always left inside my sump I just unscrewed the cap there and let a little bit spill off (turn the pump off 30 seconds ahead of time and no media comes out with the water as it settles.)

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Well, that is one work around. Plugging the tube with toilet paper. Didn't see THAT in the manual LOL.

I used Purigen and I once tried unscrewing the lid and all the media came tumbling out. This was because it's trapped at the top in the filter, and unscrewing the lid let anything on the lid side of the filter leak out with the water into the Sump. Also, seriously, many times I couldn't unscrew the cap without a vise and wrench. And, I was always very careful not to tighten it too much. Perhaps the Purigen worked it's way into the threads-- I dunno.

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This would also be a great co2 scrubber. Put an air line inlet in the top, soda lime in the bottle. Straight into your slimmer.

Interesting. I don't know much about co2 scrubbers other than they help regulate pH.

Can I pm you another design I have?

Sure.

I would like to be a BETA tester since I have never used a reactor. smile.png

Certainly. I've one to make ahead of yours.

To anyone who's interested, here's the print time to 3D print all the parts:

  • Base: 3.25 hrs.
  • Flow Restrictor Plate and Nut: 2 hrs. (optional)
  • Nozzle Assembly: 2.5 hrs.
  • Mounting Clip 2.5 hrs.

Total: 10.5 hrs.

Edited by chippwalters
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Rely a neat looking little RX. But man I gotta say I have had the same LF RX for almost 2 years now and have never had any problem w/ it. Ran it as a HOB on my 28 G for over a year and never spilled any H2O. Cleaning is a snap as I simply closed the valve prior to the RX and then removed the 2 pressure lines and removed the RX to a sink where I unscrewed the top and poured the liquid out. If you are using to run GFO and / or GAC the media, it stays in the reactor while the water is pouring out. Then hold over the garbage and pull on the tube to lift the plastic and sponge insert and it pulls the media right out. Then rinse and dry and reload. I use a small plastic cap and place over the tube while I reload to keep media out of tube. I place rinsed GAC on bottom and GFO on top. Close it up and reconnect. Run a gallon of waste thru it and replace discharge line to sump.

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Yep, that was the idea. I don't think there is a 'precise' adjust mode like Tow Little Fishies where you continuously adjust the flow each day to keep media tumbling, as there is not a tumble mode when using bagged media. I was thinking the flow adjustment is primarily set for managing the throughput based on the pump. Some pumps also have integrated flow adjustments.

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Now that I've tested the new flow regulator, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. Even on the lowest setting, there doesn't seem to be much pressure inside. Don't know if it's the pump or something else.

I might go back to the original design and leave just one hole open...

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Now that I've tested the new flow regulator, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. Even on the lowest setting, there doesn't seem to be much pressure inside. Don't know if it's the pump or something else.

I might go back to the original design and leave just one hole open...

Have you tried just using a valve on the inlet side, seems like the simplest solution

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maybe gravity is the problem? you are pushing the media down to the bottom, so it wants to sit there and not tumble whether there is flow or not. water up from the bottom pushes against gravity and prevents it from settling. maybe you can try turing it over and see if that works. unless i have it mounted backwards in my head.

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Now that I've tested the new flow regulator, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. Even on the lowest setting, there doesn't seem to be much pressure inside. Don't know if it's the pump or something else.

I might go back to the original design and leave just one hole open...

Have you tried just using a valve on the inlet side, seems like the simplest solution

The inlet is not the issue. I'm trying to build pressure inside the device, but since the bottom is a 'snap on' I doubt it's possible.

maybe gravity is the problem? you are pushing the media down to the bottom, so it wants to sit there and not tumble whether there is flow or not. water up from the bottom pushes against gravity and prevents it from settling. maybe you can try turing it over and see if that works. unless i have it mounted backwards in my head.

Currently, the Purigen inside the Purigen bag IS tumbling nicely-- actually quite a bit. I think a single hole in the bottom (a design I'm printing now) will be the best solution-- and much simpler as it doesn't require the flow regulator. One of the nice things about a 3D printer is you can do a lot of "what if" types of tests.

It sits upright, just like in the picture.

Edited by chippwalters
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what about using a venturi to keep the media tumbling? or some kind of air bubble injection?

I think I'll leave it as it is. It seems to be doing well, and there are certainly lots of other reactors which use basically the same design (see Tim's above!).

FWIW, with what I hope is the final design, removing the flow control, there are 3 different print cycles:
1. The base: 3+ hrs. (4 concepts before finalizing on the 'right' one)
2. The nozzle and nozzle nut: 2 hrs. (got it right the very first time!)
3. The mounting clip: 2hrs. (took 5 tries to get it right-- others either kept breaking, or didn't print correctly because of a design flaw).
Just so we're clear, while it IS 7 hrs, it's not that I have to do anything but press a print button, then pop it off the print bed when it's done. There's no de-burring, de-rafting, de-support structuring, or finishing process whatsoever other than just a rinse in some water.
So, it's not such a lift. Probably about $5 in plastic filament, a buck fifty for the o-ring (inside cap) and suction cups, and that's about all there is to a 'kit.' Total of $6.50 in plastic, plus wear and tear on the printer. If you were to throw in the cost of a gatorade container, you might add another couple bucks as a hole must be drilled in the cap, and the bottom has to be cut open (it's wear you load the media bags.)
So, I would assume my costs are south of ten bucks for the whole shebang.
Just uploaded the three files onto Ponoko.com and the total in basic white plastic comes to $98.24!!! Shapeways.com was a much more reasonable $56.18. Now to be fair, the print quality of both of these online 3D print companies is significantly better, plus they can print virtually any shape (not so with home printers), but still-- quite a jolt. And, one of the reasons I purchased my own printer. Way too expensive to use these guys.
If I were to invest in some tooling I could probably get the kit down to under $5 for everything in quantity from China. But, this is not any sort of "in demand" type of device, so that would make it a long time to break-even even if I sold the kit for $19.95.
It's interesting how 3D printing changes things... Any guess on what this SHOULD cost? Say I were to sell them at Aquadome or somewhere else locally...what would a fair price be?
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But you could sell just the print file too couldn't you? Seems like if you offered it with the customers initials or name on it you could sell it for what some go for on websites.

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The print file is matched to the type of printer. There's just not good enough tolerances to match a single print file to all printers, so I doubt they will work, but it's worth a try.

I don't think initials are that important for a sump reactor. I have someone else testing one right now and I'll get you one to test as well. Plus, one other tester, and I think my beta list is full. Plus, I'll bring one to ARC this weekend.

See you on Saturday!

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i don't want to sound rude, but i don't think i'd buy one for $20 with the gatorade bottle. if the bottle was better I'd be willing to pay more. the quality of the bottle probably makes little difference in the function, but if i were to walk into a store and see it i would not look closely at it for $20. $10 would make me take a good look, $15 maybe.

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i don't want to sound rude, but i don't think i'd buy one for $20 with the gatorade bottle. if the bottle was better I'd be willing to pay more. the quality of the bottle probably makes little difference in the function, but if i were to walk into a store and see it i would not look closely at it for $20. $10 would make me take a good look, $15 maybe.

Not rude at all-- just frank. Thanks for that.

Let me ask you some further questions.

1. Do you have a sump?

2. Do you use a reactor? If so, which one?

3. What size tank do you have?

4. Do you use: Purigen, GFO, Activated Carbon, Chemi-Pure or Chemi-Pure elite, Phosban, Phosguard?

5. If you don't use a reactor, which one would you use?

6. Do you understand how reactors work and why they are so much better than just laying a bag of media in your tank?

Edited by chippwalters
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