With the best from both worlds

One of the main questions that arise when we want to install a reef aquarium is the way in which we will supply calcium and carbonates to our corals. Simplifying a bit, there are two ways: by dosing calcium, carbonates and trace elements independently and by dissolving coral bones using CO2.

The first one has the great disadvantage of producing ionic imbalances and accumulation of chlorides in the long term, and the risk that any of this products is dosed in not natural proportion, on the other hand for aquariums over 500 liters these products consumption can be at a very high cost. Conversely, the usage of a calcium reactor assures us that we will always provide calcium and carbonates in the right proportions but it is usually necessary to set continuous adjustments in both the CO2 valve and the effluent valve, which is not uncommon it ends up clogged playing havoc amongst the most delicate corals.

CalcFeeder might be a possible solution to some of these problems: According to its manufacturer, Pacific Sun, it is a calcium reactor which does not need be regulated, easy to use and jam-proof. We will check it out on this review.

CalcFeeder: Pacific Sun's solution

It is based on ensuring that the water from the reactor is saturated of CO2. For this task it dispenses the usage of delicate pH probes that require frequent cleaning and calibration and implements an optical level sensor to ensure that there is always a minimum amount of CO2 gas in the mixing chamber.

With CalcFeeder you will no longer need to worry about the pH of the reactor's water as we know it will be saturated and will maintain its ability to dissolve the product we want to use. These reactors' CO2 mixing chamber is proportionally huge, much more than on any other known reactor. Its design quickly draws attention , it consists of two concentric pipes between which are housed numerous bioballs; the inner tube is adapted at the top to accommodate the optical level sensor that will inform the controller whether there is or not a bag of CO2 inside. A powerful and silent pump Aquabee UP2000 makes water recirculate between the reactor and the mixing chamber producing great turbulence and agitation when hitting those bioballs and thus facilitating the CO2 diffusion.

After testing it, I have witnessed that this reactor is capable of producing water with an alkalinity over 80ºdkH and a pH of about 6,3 within two hours of operation. For this test we employed a CalcFeeder AC3 PRO and the reaction chamber was filled with about 20 liters of coarse coral gravel. After watching these data it seems that the new system not only works as expected, but performs exceptionally well, I had never seen such a high concentration of carbonates in the effluent of any conventional reactor.

 

CalcFeeder optical sensor

A four-core and different wavelengths optical level sensor effectively distinguishes the accumulation of CO2 in the interior of the mixing chamber without any false alarms .

If the controller receives the signal indicating that CO2 is running out, it will command the solenoid valve (included in the set) to open and feed the CalcFeeder with more CO2, thus maintaining a constant level. We are not concerned about water pH anymore, we know that it will always be saturated with CO2.

This reactor guzzles CO2 in the first hours of operation: solenoid valve may be open for several minutes until the water saturates with CO2 and begins to dissolve the chosen product. After a few hours it is easy to observe an important CO2 economy since the solenoid valve is activated only. We have done tests with coarse coral gravel and it performs with surprising efficiency so you should not have any difficulty dissolving products like Hydrocarbonate from AquaMedic or ARM from CaribSea.

CalcFeeder mixing chamber

One thing I do not really like is the way the optical level sensor is inserted on the CalcFeeder: horizontally in a non protected area that leaves it rather exposed to accidental bumps, while it's true that it is very accessible if it needs to be replaced.

The cable is thin and seems delicate with a horizontal insertion that makes it be always bent and stressed. The sensor's thread is acrylic and the reactor's made in PVC , so if it is not screwed properly you can damage the latter. It is not necessary to touch, but if you ever have to replace it, you'd better be careful.

In any case, the system using this optical level sensor seems to work very reliably. During the time we've been testing this equipment, it has not given any reading error and CO2 injection system behaves smooth and accurate without the necessity of installing a bubble counter as in traditional reactors.

 

An astounding calcium reactor

The first impression we got when receiving the first equipments was very good: quality materials and well-thought details.

The CalcFeeder reactor is built in transparent acrylic, black and white, it uses thick and heavy parts, with sturdy and impeccable connections. The joint between the transparent chambers and the reactor base is topped with a black ring that provides strength and a nice aesthetic touch. Pipes connecting the two chambers and the recirculation pump are reinforced with a white acrylic block that facilitates the insertion.

Both chambers can be quickly and easily opened: we just need to loosen the screws, that are fitted on the threaded flange without the necessity of any nut, and just twist the lid slightly to remove it. The opening is complete and won't find any inconvenient element thus making the recharging task nice and easy.

Each connection is clearly identified, in a clear and elegant way: engraved on the lid.

 

CalcFeeder mixing chamber lid
CalcFeeder reaction chamber lid

On the other hand, It incorporates technical details that I consider essential in a frontline equipment:

  • Recirculation bypass. Connecting the top of the reaction chamber, where CO2 builds up, with the sucking pipe of the pump. Thus making the most of each CO2 molecule and avoiding draw it in the aquarium. It has a small valve that allows us to enable it or not.
  • Recirculation valve. It allows varying the equipment's performance: if we close it partially , we can slow down the speed with which it dissolves the media, something that can be very useful when we have few corals in the tank or we are comissioning the reactor.
  • John Guest connectors. Fast and safe, no risk of leakage or drips. They are angled connectors, something allows direct horizontal piping, improving tidiness and aesthetics for the set.

 

CalcFeeder drain

The CalcFeeder reactor is not equiped with a drain valve, but we can empty the reactor in case of necessity just by disconnecting this valve from the pipe on the lid and opening it on a water container.

Since the pipe is inserted into the lower part of the reactor, it is very easy to empty the reactor by this way. However it would be appreciated that Pacific Sun equipped a valve for this purpose, with no necessity to disconnect any pipe. A possible improvement for future releases.

 

The controller, two options

A calcium reactor is presented in two versions: the Basic and Pro.

  • CalcFeeder Basic. It includes a controller for the CO2 system. This is similar to the one used by the top-off Sentry, designed to activate the solenoid valve when the optical level sensor does not detect the presence of CO2 in the mixing chamber. This could be best option for whoever has an appropriate dosing pump or decide to use the reactor in the traditional way, by using a precision valve in the effluent outlet.
  • CalcFeeder Pro. The controller manages the CO2 system in the same manner as above and adds a peristaltic pump for continuous use and a color touch screen to program the dosing flow. It is the most complete option and also the most expensive. In my opinion this is the best option if you want to take full advantage of this unique equipment.
CalcFeeder Pro controller

The touch-screen controller provided with CalcFeeder Pro provides information on the optical level sensor and solenoid valve. It allows you to set the rate at which calcium and carbonate are dosed in the tank, from 0,100 l/h to 7,200 l/h

The controller has a USB port on its left side. Through this port you can upgrade your firmware. Pacific Sun announced that this controller will shortly be able to run with a much higher flow rate.

 

CalcFeeder controller inside

The pump chosen for this task is a Kamoer with a stepper motor and neoprene tube. A powerful and reliable equipment, a bit noisy so you'd better choose the right place to install it (I recommend setting it under the tank in a place where the sound is attenuated), in any case, this won't be annoying unless you keep the aquarium in your bedroom.

 

 

A convenient and flexible system

CalcFeeder reactor presents other advantages compared to any conventional calcium reactor. As it is not gravity dependant and doesn't dose by dripping, we can install it inside or outside the sump, even far from it and at a different level. This unit we have tested was installed 2,5 meters away from the sump with no problem.

This distance does not seem to have affected significantly the dosing system. We carried out three tests at different flow : 1 liter 0,500 l/h, 2 liters 6,000 l/h and 3 liters 3,000 l/h. The error has been minimal

The CalcFeeder reactor is supplied with two acrylic brackets to hold the inlet/outlet pipes firmly in the water. Pacific Sun recommends that both tubes are always under the water level, the explanation in the case of the return pipe is that if power is interrupted for a while, some air could enter the reactor and once the power is restored would need some time to purge this air.

CalcFeeder anywhere

Despite installed away from the tank and with a slightly higher degassing reactor, this CalcFeeder reactor worked fine and accurately without any interruption for several days.

The controller with the dosing pump was installed almost a meter above the reactor, which was not a problem either. It was not even necessary to prime the system, it seems that the dosing pump performs way better than what we had supposed.

An expensive equipment, worth the money?

The great question. If you analyze it carefully it may not be so much: How much is the equivalent calcium reactor from other brands? half? All right. Now start adding up what you need for it to work: CO2 bottle with pressure reducer, needle valve, bubble counter, solenoid valve, pH probe and pH controller. What does CalcFeeder need to work? just the CO2 bottle, the pressure regulator and a needle valve.

It is true that a equipment with all these features is a major outlay, but it is also true that the same thing happens with a traditional calcium reactor. The CalcFeeder reactor is certainly a step forward for those who want to pamper the most delicate corals: it yields unprecedented stability and reliability. A versatile system that allows a setup inside or outside the sump with no need to adjust or continuously regulate as usual.

Certainly an option to take into account if your pocket allows it and are bewitched by the charm of the acropora.

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