Any chemists? - Issues Cycling using Ammonium BiCarbonate - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-24-2011, 02:57 PM Thread Starter
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Any chemists? - Issues Cycling using Ammonium BiCarbonate

Hi all,

As a summary: don't use ammonium bicarbonate to cycle a tank. In my opinion it makes more sense to follow procedures that people have used, repeated and determined empirically how to get good reproducibility.

Background: I recently got into the aquarium hobby and purchased a fluval edge. I decided to cycle the tank with plants in before adding any fish as this seemed like a humane way to do things.

I work in a laboratory setting and had access to Ammonium Bicarbonate powder which I thought would be a nice way of cycling my tank without using extra food/shrimp in a sock.

Observations: I added what I determined stoichiometrically to be the required amount of solution for my tanks based on:

NH4HCO3 -> HN3 + H20 + CO2

Based on some research, I believe that this reaction happens at about 60 degrees celsius, much much higher than we would ever keep an aquarium. I believe that some of the Ammonium Bicarb may have dissociated into:

NH4HCO3 -> NH4 + HCO3

...but I am unsure to what degree. After several weeks of waiting patiently, I have not seen ammonia levels drop much at all.


1. I tested a sample a few weeks ago for ammonia, Nitrate and nitrite. All were off the charts. This means that there is Ammonia oxidizing bacteria present. So why are they stalled and not eliminating the last 2 ppm of ammonia that is present? My thoughts would be that ammonia is not present in the form (ammonium) that the bacteria can consume.

2. After several weeks of waiting, ammonia levels only drop after water changes (2 water changes thus far, each at about 25%). This leads me to believe that there is a surplus of ammonium bicarb that the bacteria cannot utilize. My thoughts are that the latter reaction is happening and because of the high hardness caused by my tapwater, the Eco-complete substrate used and the addition of Bicarbonate that perhaps some kind of equilibrium has been reached resulting in no dissociation.

3. My pH has always been off the charts high (measured using an intank seachem pH thing). I am thinking of experimenting with Acetic Acid to try to consume some alkalinity and bring the pH closer to 7. My main goal is to simply try to get this stuff out of there. I may try to determine via stoichiometry, based on measured hardness, how much acetic acid is required to neutralize the hardness.

Closing notes: I also have seachem prime at my disposal and RO water (planning to use in future). I will also go out and purchase a gH/kH test kit to start getting some numbers.

Any thoughts or comments on this would be helpful.
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 04:13 AM
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I don't recall sigma-Alrich, Fisher scientific or any other chemical company marketing to the aquarium cycle/plant market.

How are you going to get the Sodium acetate out? Will it react with metal earth ions (Ca,Mg,Na) ?

1) Le-Chatliers Principle - Add some plants, floating and planted wisteria are great beginner plants, then add fish around your already living aquascape

2) You're a smart chemist if you're doing this without living fish in the tank.

3) ...very smart. Now you can contact the patent attorney.

This post is not intended to insult you. I'm interested in your travels. A carbon filter might be your friend in this experiment.

Keep us updated!

What happened to just adding fish and water, and replacing water every couple of days?
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 04:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AirstoND View Post
I don't recall sigma-Alrich, Fisher scientific or any other chemical company marketing to the aquarium cycle/plant market.

How are you going to get the Sodium acetate out?

1) Le-Chatliers Principle - Add some plants, floating and planted wisteria are great beginner plants.

2) You're a smart chemist if you're doing this without living fish in the tank.

3) ...very smart. Now you can contact the patent attorney. How are you going to get the acetate out? Will it react with metal earth ions (Ca,Mg,Na) ?

Don't mean to insult you. I'm interested in your travels. A carbon filter might be your friend in this experiment.

Keep us updated!

What happened to just adding fish and water, and replacing water every couple of days?
You don't need to get the acetic acid "out". Just don't use it to the level that your ph is 5 and you've burned through all the KH.
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 04:20 AM
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I would do 2x 80% or so water changes, which should remove most of the excess ammonium/ ammonia. There is no benefit to keeping that water in the tank. And, there is very little benefit to doing any cycling beyond simply heavily planting the tank, fertilizing and adding CO2 as needed, and waiting a week or two for the plants to get started growing well, then introducing fish a few at a time.

Not everyone agrees with this

Hoppy
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 01:38 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by AirstoND View Post
I don't recall sigma-Alrich, Fisher scientific or any other chemical company marketing to the aquarium cycle/plant market.
No, but the ammonium bicarb was free, and it seems tricky to find ammonia in Canada without any surfactants. It is used widely in the baking industry in place of yeast so it isn't just a laboratory grade product.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AirstoND View Post
How are you going to get the Sodium acetate out? Will it react with metal earth ions (Ca,Mg,Na) ?
I am assuming that adding acetate will likely bond with the cations and will be removed with water changes. Also, it may be consumed by heterotrophic bacteria but I'm not sure. My theory was to add the acetate to allow the ammonium bicarb to dissociate (by consuming hardness) and then hopefully I wouldn't have it lingering in the background to slowly dissociate over time. Given that my local water is at a pH close to 8, I don't want to take my chances with even low levels of ammonia. The benefit of acetate is that it converts NH3 (present due to my high initial pH) into NH4 which is what the nitrifying bacteria need. The side effect is that I think CO2 was likely released and now I have some weird algae type stuff on my plants.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AirstoND View Post
1) Le-Chatliers Principle - Add some plants, floating and planted wisteria are great beginner plants, then add fish around your already living aquascape

2) You're a smart chemist if you're doing this without living fish in the tank.

3) ...very smart. Now you can contact the patent attorney.

This post is not intended to insult you. I'm interested in your travels. A carbon filter might be your friend in this experiment.

Keep us updated!

What happened to just adding fish and water, and replacing water every couple of days?
My tank is already planted with Wisteria, Crpyt Wendtii, Riccia, Dwarf Hairgrass (very brown), pygmy chain swords and a moss ball. This is why I was concerned that ammonia levels didn't drop in 2 weeks.

Post isn't insulting, more like you're taking jabs at over complicating what should have been a natural, fairly straightforward process. I'm not a chemist (unfortunately). I added this stuff before thinking it through and now am in a world of uncertainty. The purpose of my post, I suppose, is to warm anyone else who may have encountered this and thought it would be a bit easier than adding fish food. If you interpreted my post as me trying to sound smart, it wasn't my intention. I was trying to point out how unnecessarily complicated and uncertain this method is.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 01:40 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by OverStocked View Post
You don't need to get the acetic acid "out". Just don't use it to the level that your ph is 5 and you've burned through all the KH.

My tap water is 20 dh, so I can hopefully add that to offset any hardness losses.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 10-25-2011, 01:48 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
I would do 2x 80% or so water changes, which should remove most of the excess ammonium/ ammonia. There is no benefit to keeping that water in the tank. And, there is very little benefit to doing any cycling beyond simply heavily planting the tank, fertilizing and adding CO2 as needed, and waiting a week or two for the plants to get started growing well, then introducing fish a few at a time.

Not everyone agrees with this
I did a 50% change last night with RO water. My RO water/acetic acid seems to have brought my hardness down to around 6 dH. By contrast, my tap water which was used originally is 20dh (you can imagine how high the hardness was after you factor in bicarb addition and eco-complete, yikes).

I am hoping to start stocking soon assuming my levels look ok after adding in a pinch of dry food as a test. My tank is planted and I seem to be getting some growth going. My microsword and dwarf hairgrass seem to be somewhat brown, but the microsword is sending out runners and has some new (green) leaves. Next step, I assume, is to trim off brown leaves?

One side effect of adding the acetic acid is that I now seems to have a clear puffy slime-like algae growing on my plants and wood. I'm going to search the forums for advice on this.
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