Denitrification - The Planted Tank Forum
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:38 PM Thread Starter
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Denitrification

So I would like to have a discussion about denitrification regarding its understanding and what aspects are imperative.
First off anyone replying to this thread understands denitrification is the conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas through having a deep substrate that creates anoxic (No O2) conditions on the bottom level for the Heterotrophic facultative anaerobes to colonize. The HFA will use the nitrate as a oxidizing agent since no oxygen is present and this will result in the nitrate - nitrogen gas conversion.
This process is a large part of removing the need for water changes and preventing most algae growth in freshwater aquariums. Some claims have been made of tanks going on 25+ years with no water changes and algae.

So there are a few things I would like to start this conversation off with...
1. Hydrogen sulfide. Within this deep substrate you will have a certain bacteria consuming carbon and sulfate and will in return create hydrogen sulfide. H2s is extremely toxic as everyone knows but I have read from multiply sources that H2s forming in anoxic zones will become neutralized (converted back to sulfate) in the presence of oxygen. From Wikipedia...
" Aeration
For concentrations of hydrogen sulfide less than 2 mg/L aeration is an ideal treatment process. Oxygen is added to water and a reaction between oxygen and hydrogen sulfide react to produce odorless sulfate[32]"
This indicates that if our tanks are properly aerated (which they should be regardless) then H2s should not be a concern. However, I happen to come across a post... "H2s to SO4 isn't a very efficient reaction without a catalyst metal of some sort." Is this simply not the case and the only limiting factor in this conversion is the oxygen due to such small amounts of H2s? Maybe this person is educated on a different matter and trying to apply it where it doesn't belong? or perhaps a source of iron would assist with this conversion?
2.The Heterotrophic facultative anaerobes need carbon. Carbon dosing is the stated option but if you have enough plants and fish then carbon dosing should not be necessary right? I have also heard that they do in fact need a source of iron to colonize but I have only heard this from one source.
3.Has anyone achieved this? If so Could you talk about your substrate, substrate critters, substrate height, your opinion on if iron is necessary etc.

All constructive replies are appreciated.

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Last edited by symstep; 04-28-2019 at 04:44 AM. Reason: To Edit
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:46 PM
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First off anyone replying to this thread understands denitrification is the conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas through having a deep substrate that creates anoxic (No O2) conditions on the bottom level for the Heterotrophic facultative anaerobes to colonize. The HFA will use the nitrate as a oxidizing agent since no oxygen is present and this will result in the nitrate - nitrogen gas conversion.
That is not the only way to encourage anaerobic areas, you can achieve this running media in a reactor / sump that has deep pores, where anaerobic bacteria can thrive.

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When this process is achieved it allegedly will remove the need for water changes and most algae growth in freshwater aquariums. Some claims have been made of tanks going on 25+ years with no water changes and algae.
The single best thing a planted tank can receive is a good water change regime. Proactively removing toxins, organics, excess fertilizers etc. Without replacing vital nutrients and minerals, we couldn't keep the tanks we do here on the forum.

Nature is vastly up-scaled compared to our tiny glass boxes of water and plants. We can do our best to emulate it, but it's near impossible to achieve what happens in nature in our tanks.

I'm all for removing NO3 if that is someone's goal, but it certainly does no eliminate the need for water changes.

This topic has been "discussed" here many, many, many times. The "discussions" never end up being peaceful, and never achieve anything - or solve a problem - or answer questions.

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Old 04-23-2019, 08:20 PM Thread Starter
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That is not the only way to encourage anaerobic areas, you can achieve this running media in a reactor / sump that has deep pores, where anaerobic bacteria can thrive.



The single best thing a planted tank can receive is a good water change regime. Proactively removing toxins, organics, excess fertilizers etc. Without replacing vital nutrients and minerals, we couldn't keep the tanks we do here on the forum.

Nature is vastly up-scaled compared to our tiny glass boxes of water and plants. We can do our best to emulate it, but it's near impossible to achieve what happens in nature in our tanks.

I'm all for removing NO3 if that is someone's goal, but it certainly does no eliminate the need for water changes.

This topic has been "discussed" here many, many, many times. The "discussions" never end up being peaceful, and never achieve anything - or solve a problem - or answer questions.
Yes creating a filtration system (canister filter or sump) with low flow where the nitrifying bacteria can deplete the oxygen so the second half of the filtration system can have anoxic conditions. I mainly wanted to discuss substrate tho, Still thank you for bringing this up for others.
Are you open to the idea that a water change regime is only necessary due to a lack of true balance? We need to "remove toxins" because we have not created the correct environment and so on? Therefore this could be a misconception. Considering On you tube you can find fully planted/lush aquariums that have not seen a water change in years. I did search Theplantedtank.net and didn't see a real discussion on this topic so thought I would start one, Sorry that I didn't see the threads you are referring to and sorry if that upset you.
''The "discussions" never end up being peaceful, and never achieve anything - or solve a problem - or answer questions.''
I can now see how this would happen since there apparently are people going around feeling the need to try and shut others down for simply a interest. Thanks for the constructive reply.

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Old 04-24-2019, 01:23 AM
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Yes creating a filtration system (canister filter or sump) with low flow where the nitrifying bacteria can deplete the oxygen so the second half of the filtration system can have anoxic conditions. I mainly wanted to discuss substrate tho, Still thank you for bringing this up for others.
Are you open to the idea that a water change regime is only necessary due to a lack of true balance? We need to "remove toxins" because we have not created the correct environment and so on? Therefore this could be a misconception. Considering On you tube you can find fully planted/lush aquariums that have not seen a water change in years. I did search Theplantedtank.net and didn't see a real discussion on this topic so thought I would start one, Sorry that I didn't see the threads you are referring to and sorry if that upset you.
''The "discussions" never end up being peaceful, and never achieve anything - or solve a problem - or answer questions.''
I can now see how this would happen since there apparently are people going around feeling the need to try and shut others down for simply a interest. Thanks for the constructive reply.
I did some research after seeing the video I'm sure you've also seen.

The main issues I found from research is concerns for old tank syndrome from the lack of water changes and that planted tanks don't need anything to remove the nitrates since the plants use it to grow.

IMO I don't think many people have tried this method to the extent as say ocean aquarium. So I doubt much true information is out there.
This hobby is all about learning so TBH I would try it and use ocean aquarium as the reference.
The main things I see in their tanks is obviously the DSB, but also tons of fish and almost the limit of plants the tank can hold.
Along with that in one of Cory's videos of the Ocean Aquarium it shows how they use co2 and low/medium lighting to get optimal plant growth.
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Old 04-24-2019, 01:42 AM
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Typical planted aquarium includes NO3 dosing.
Accumulation of NO3 occurs if the phish load is heavy.
Many people, for some unknown reason like lots of phish?
Many plants in my tank and the highest daily consumption that I can tell is about 3.5ppm NO3 per day.
Phish load in my tank provides no measurable NO3 with so few phish.

So what type of planted tank are you looking into?


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Old 04-25-2019, 06:29 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Quesenek View Post
I did some research after seeing the video I'm sure you've also seen. Ocean Aquarium

The main issues I found from research is concerns for old tank syndrome from the lack of water changes and that planted tanks don't need anything to remove the nitrates since the plants use it to grow.

IMO I don't think many people have tried this method to the extent as say ocean aquarium. So I doubt much true information is out there.
This hobby is all about learning so TBH I would try it and use ocean aquarium as the reference.
The main things I see in their tanks is obviously the DSB, but also tons of fish and almost the limit of plants the tank can hold.
Along with that in one of Cory's videos of the Ocean Aquarium it shows how they use co2 and low/medium lighting to get optimal plant growth.
Hello there, thank you for the reply.
Yes, ocean aquarium is probably the best example for this concept. I had a conversation with the guy (over the phone). When I asked about hydrogen sulfide, he said he just uses a chopstick to "pop the gravel every month or so, everything simple''. He uses a 5 inch substrate in all of his tanks but he recommends I use about 3 inches, all of his tanks have never seen a water change after being established and he doesn't test for anything except PH. Bonus note... Dr Kevin Novak (another denitrification guy) says the reason he has no algae in his tanks is because he has no nitrates. The OA guy said he has no algae because of his very low flow rate. He chooses low flow to combat algae because this is what he has observed in nature. Dudes a legend.

Old tank syndrome is a great topic to bring up! Two aspects of OTS.
Water column - As water evaporates from your tank, minerals are left behind. Topping off the tank increases minerals to a toxic level. Previous fish slowly adapt but newly added fish will not survive. You could assume topping off with Ro water would combat this however, OA guy said he in fact uses tap water to top off. Said all he adds is a buffer for ph. So I would submit that the plants and fish utilize these minerals to prevent toxic build up. Everything is about balance. On the other end of this you could talk about mineral depletion. Dr kevin Novak argues that "all the plants need is the ammonia ion and a substrate to hold it", however this may be a discussion for another time. In terms of mineral depletion there would simply be proper dosing.
Substrate - There are stories of tank owners moving their hardscape around and soon after the livestock dies. This is because hydrogen sulfide built up and was released in a large amounts. Honestly this is the aspect I am trying to nail down. As I said in my original post, H2s is allegedly neutralized in the presence of oxygen, there is also bacteria that converts sulfide to sulfate. Perhaps these stories are where too much h2s is released at once and the oxygen doesn't have enough time to neutralize it? Perhaps to large of a anoxic zone? Plus they may be missing other important elements to this ecosystem. All the Ocean Aquarium guy had to say was what I quoted above, also I didn't want to take up too much of his time. So seemingly a good clean up crew, A proper substrate height, a good bacteria to bio load ratio (Nitrifying and Denitrifying bacteria within the deep substrate), releasing small amounts of h2s by force (popping) to prevent large build ups, plant roots bringing oxygen to the anoxic zones and having properly oxygenated water are the imperative elements to avoid Hydrogen sulfide poisoning? Also lets say if you are going to tear down or reorganize a lot of your tank... Take your fish out before hand.

In terms of a salt water aquariums. Apparently salt water fish are far more sensitive, so denitrification seems to be wanted more. I am very new to this hobby and I can not efficiently speculate if success achieved in salt water can apply to fresh water. Considering (as you have said) the lack of information, Saltwater DSB success seems to be a good reference.

The ocean aquarium guys co2 method - Apparently this is a very old school method, and I love it! Everything is treated so simple. Dudes a legend

Thank you very much for your reply, Bringing information to the thread and relevant topics to discuss so visitors and ourselves can learn. I completely agree with you that this hobby is about learning. I will definitely try to achieve this true balance very soon. Just want to get as much information as possible before hand.
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Old 04-25-2019, 06:43 PM
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I will definitely try to achieve this true balance very soon. Just want to get as much information as possible before hand.
Make sure to start up a journal to track progress. Not many tanks around here running 0 NO3 and no water changes, would be a nice change of pace.
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Old 04-25-2019, 07:13 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Maryland Guppy View Post
Typical planted aquarium includes NO3 dosing.
Accumulation of NO3 occurs if the phish load is heavy.
Many people, for some unknown reason like lots of phish?
Many plants in my tank and the highest daily consumption that I can tell is about 3.5ppm NO3 per day.
Phish load in my tank provides no measurable NO3 with so few phish.

So what type of planted tank are you looking into?
Hello there.
As for your tank, I kind of have a lot of questions haha
1. Can I see a picture?
2. How long has it been set up?
3. What exactly do you dose if you dose at all?
4. What has been this specific tanks experience with algae?
5. How often do you do water changes?
6. Do you gravel vac?
7. Type of gravel?
8. Height of gravel?
9. When did Nitrates start reading 0?
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Old 04-25-2019, 07:24 PM
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Substrate - There are stories of tank owners moving their hardscape around and soon after the livestock dies. This is because hydrogen sulfide built up and was released in a large amounts. Honestly this is the aspect I am trying to nail down. As I said in my original post, H2s is allegedly neutralized in the presence of oxygen, there is also bacteria that converts sulfide to sulfate. Perhaps these stories are where too much h2s is released at once and the oxygen doesn't have enough time to neutralize it? Perhaps to large of a anoxic zone? Plus they may be missing other important elements to this ecosystem. All the Ocean Aquarium guy had to say was what I quoted above, also I didn't want to take up too much of his time. So seemingly a good clean up crew, A proper substrate height, a good bacteria to bio load ratio (Nitrifying and Denitrifying bacteria within the deep substrate), releasing small amounts of h2s by force (popping) to prevent large build ups, plant roots bringing oxygen to the anoxic zones and having properly oxygenated water are the imperative elements to avoid Hydrogen sulfide poisoning? Also lets say if you are going to tear down or reorganize a lot of your tank... Take your fish out before hand.
I wonder if an army of Malaysian Trumpet Snails would do a good job of sifting the substrate to prevent the H2S from building up.
I've also heard conflicting information about H2S killing fish, Cory from the aquarium coop brings up the point that it builds up to toxic levels in the wild and supposedly it doesn't bother anything, however he also brings up that our aquariums are much smaller bodies of water then the ponds/lakes/rivers/seas in the wild so that could possibly be the reason it is toxic for us.
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Old 04-25-2019, 08:13 PM
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Of course it can be done.
Most planted aquariums in the 60ís and 70ís were done like that. They were fully planted, had deep substrate, strong aeration, low light intensity and low fish load. No canister filtration, only sponges. Tap water was used to compensate for evaporation and mineral loss.

The system goal was to get things balanced.
Tap top-ups replenished KH, Ca, Mg and other elements. Fish waste was used up by plants and also by substrate denitrification. Hormones and other organic substances were decomposed by bacteria and used up by plants. Long lighting periods of low light intensity grew plants and kept algae away. Often, pH dropped due to KH loss, or plants yellowed because of insufficient nitrogen. Harmful sulfur compounds were not forming where plant roots grew.

They were cleaner and healthier than todayís chemical fertilizer bombs and tap water civilization contaminants. However, not all plants can live in these conditions and donít expect many AGA aquascaping awards with it.
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Old 04-25-2019, 08:27 PM Thread Starter
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I wonder if an army of Malaysian Trumpet Snails would do a good job of sifting the substrate to prevent the H2S from building up.
I've also heard conflicting information about H2S killing fish, Cory from the aquarium coop brings up the point that it builds up to toxic levels in the wild and supposedly it doesn't bother anything, however he also brings up that our aquariums are much smaller bodies of water then the ponds/lakes/rivers/seas in the wild so that could possibly be the reason it is toxic for us.
I think you are absolutely right. The clean up crew serves two purposes. One is "turning" the substrate and another is breaking down carbon for bacteria. As to what members to have in your crew, The MTS sound like the elite providing there isn't too much substrate agitation and interference with these bacteria. As for the H2s, I think the things I listed above may in fact be enough to not have to worry about it.

Keep in mind all of this is like what Cory said. Its like baking with your grandmother .haha. Every tank and created environment is different.
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Old 04-25-2019, 09:02 PM
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To me these are best managed in a controlled filter box environment with specific flow rates, specific prefilters grades and media specifically designed to do it in a precise way.

To many ways for it to go wrong in gravel bed. Anyone who thinks a trumpet snail is going to sacrifice itself for the good of the tank by burrowing into a sulfide pocket is delusional.

Setting up a external algae scrubber is a much simpler, safer solution all way around.
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Old 04-25-2019, 09:15 PM Thread Starter
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Of course it can be done.
Most planted aquariums in the 60ís and 70ís were done like that. They were fully planted, had deep substrate, strong aeration, low light intensity and low fish load. No canister filtration, only sponges. Tap water was used to compensate for evaporation and mineral loss.

The system goal was to get things balanced.
Tap top-ups replenished KH, Ca, Mg and other elements. Fish waste was used up by plants and also by substrate denitrification. Hormones and other organic substances were decomposed by bacteria and used up by plants. Long lighting periods of low light intensity grew plants and kept algae away. Often, pH dropped due to KH loss, or plants yellowed because of insufficient nitrogen. Harmful sulfur compounds were not forming where plant roots grew.

They were cleaner and healthier than todayís chemical fertilizer bombs and tap water civilization contaminants. However, not all plants can live in these conditions and donít expect many AGA aquascaping awards with it.
Whats up edward, nice to interact with you again.

Also thank you! It is definitely possible. There is a lot of misconceptions in this hobby and it also comes down to what you are trying to accomplish. Have you been able to achieve this?

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To me these are best managed in a controlled filter box environment with specific flow rates, specific prefilters grades and media specifically designed to do it in a precise way.

To many ways for it to go wrong in gravel bed. Anyone who thinks a trumpet snail is going to sacrifice itself for the good of the tank by burrowing into a sulfide pocket is delusional.

Setting up a external algae scrubber is a much simpler, safer solution all way around.
What is this specifically designed media? Montmorillonite clay?
Would denitrification via sump still have the same danger since it flows directly back into the tank?
No one said anything about a snail sacrificing itself. It's presence in the tank among the other variables listed is what prevents these sulfide pockets in the first place. No one here is delusional. Apparently just rude.
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Last edited by Darkblade48; 04-25-2019 at 11:41 PM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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Old 04-25-2019, 10:20 PM
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Whats up edward, nice to interact with you again.

Also thank you! It is definitely possible. There is a lot of misconceptions in this hobby and it also comes down to what you are trying to accomplish. Have you been able to achieve this?
Thank you.
I have seen many aquariums designed the way it is described above and most were beautiful because they were long term projects, fully matured. Personally, I have had few set for number of years, minus the huge substrate layer. My plants always managed to keep NO3 low. Just give them PO4 boost and they will take the NO3 up.

I know you are talking about substrate denitrification. Nevertheless, I should mention that I have tried canister filter denitrification and it worked wonders. I filled it with common red lava rock from Home Depot, and it was able to remove 3 Ė 4 ppm NO3 a day. The lava chunks must be > 1Ē in size for the bacteria to work because process is happening inside the porous rock.
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Old 04-26-2019, 01:15 AM
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Hello there.
As for your tank, I kind of have a lot of questions haha
1. Can I see a picture?
Pick from the end.

Pick of 1/2 front.


2. How long has it been set up?
Two years but changed out substrate 6 weeks ago. (6 weeks/same plants)

3. What exactly do you dose if you dose at all?
Macro & micros, CO2, 120PAR
Water column to never exceed 30ppm NO3 and .3ppm Fe

4. What has been this specific tanks experience with algae?
Substrate change from capped soil to BDBS horrible algae outbreak. (6 weeks ago)
Pearling Algae pic.

Fully recovered now.

5. How often do you do water changes?
14-18% weekly in 80G tank.

6. Do you gravel vac?
Yes if I uproot a large area of plants.

7. Type of gravel?
None, coal slag Black diamond blasting sand.

8. Height of gravel?
Two inches.

9. When did Nitrates start reading 0?
Never, I don't let it drop that low.
Past 12 weeks I've logged all dosing in the tank.
Daily consumption measurements to the best of my ability.
3.5ppm NO3 per day and .015 Fe per day.
This varies a bit from week to week but this is the maximum detected uptake.

10. I added this one, Phish Load.
Includes 8 harlequin rasboras, 12 panda(small) Cory's, 2 flame tetras in an 80G.

My only Journal here is of this tank.
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