As mentioned last month, I was not sure whether another product review would be ready for this article. However the review of AquaC's protein skimmer did complete and resulted in a very positive product review.
While attending MACNA XI I met Jason Kim, the AquaC company owner, at his product booth. I had recently seen advertisements of his new skimmer in various aquarium magazines noting its unique spray nozzle technology and wondered whether something truly beneficial had come to market or was it just product hype.
In my quest to keep the readers of Marine Fish Monthly up-to-date on new products I couldn't resist introducing myself and asking many pointed questions. All of which were graciously and completely answered. I came away with some handout material and left convinced the product deserved some positive comments in future Salt Corner articles.
Jason contacted me a few days after returning home and asked if I was interested in actually testing one of his skimmers. I explained my position as to product tests, one that I won't repeat here as all that follow my column already know it, and he accepted those terms. Once a product company accepts my review terms I know they sincerely believe they have a good product!
A few days later an AquaC Model EV-150 with a Rio 2500 pump arrived my doorstep. It was well packaged and arrived safe and sound. Besides a nicely made product with an extensive user's manual, there is a technical specification sheet available that notes water and air flow through rate; their height; footprint size; recommended pumps sizes; what size aquarium they will accommodate; and, their actual bubble size and volume of foam they could be expected to deliver. How many other protein skimmer companies provide this kind of information? Let me answer that for you - NONE.There are three models, an EV-90 that stands 18 inches high. The recommended pump, optional as all pumps are, is a Rio 1700. Its footprint is 4.5 x 6 inches and with the recommended pump has an approximate effluent rate of 225 gallons. It's priced at $269. The EV-150 stands 20 inches high. The recommended pump is a Rio 2500. Its footprint is 5.5 x 7.5 inches and with the recommended pump has an approximate effluent rate of 275 gallons. It's priced at $299. The EV-200 stands 24 inches high. The recommended pump is two Rio 2500's or one 3MDQ. Its footprint is 6 x 9 inches and with the recommended pump has an approximate effluent rate of 550 gallons. It's priced at $399.
One of the nice features of these skimmers is that they can either be used in a sump or as a stand-alone skimmer. The User's Manual fully explains how to set them up in different locations. For the purpose of this test it was placed in the sump of a clients aquarium. Installation is a snap. Simply thread the units outflow gate valve into the fitting on the side of the skimmer body and then connect the pump to the inlet side of the spray nozzle with a short piece of plastic tubing. Fully open the gate valve and place the whole unit in the sump (or the area of your choice) and plug-in the pump's electrical cord. Once up and running, the gate valve is slowly closed until the skimmers internal water level reaches the recommended level, which is just below the air mixing chamber at the top of the main skimmer body.
Since there must be gravity flow of water through the skimmer body, sump water level needs to be below the recommended internal skimmer water level while running. If the water level in the sump is above what is recommended, i.e., equal to or above that of the skimmer's recommended internal water level while running, the skimmer may have to be elevated somewhat to have water gravity feed back into in the sump. This is fully explained in theUser's Manual.
As the pump forces the water through the injection spray nozzle and it strikes the water surface just below air mixing chamber, it creates a less than atmospheric pressure gradient inside this chamber. This draws a constant supply of fresh air through a small gap around the base of the foam tower where it penetrates the main skimmer body. This spray effect mixes a huge quality of air with the incoming water and produces 'extremely' fine bubbles.
The flow of the water and its bubbles is carried downward into the lower portion of the main skimmer body where an angular deflection panel separates bubbles from water. The plate also causes a rotational movement of the water and bubbles, adding to bubble dwell time and their ability to pick up additional dissolved organic compounds. The collecting foam then rises into the bottom portion of the clear acrylic cylinder-shaped foam-collecting tower that is attached to the top of the main skimmer body. The foam eventually rises and empties into the unit's removable collection cup. Of course, the water drains out of the main skimmer body through the gate valve back into the sump.
The amount of air and water these physically small protein skimmer process is extremely impressive. For something so small and uses such electrically efficient pumps, their performance equals other brands that are much bigger and more expensive. Also worth noting is the size of their air bubbles, which equal or better those produced in many skimmers equipped with needle impellers and do so with a much greater water flow.
The dark gray, yet transparent main body of the AquaC skimmers is another feature worth discussing. All other brands of skimmers that have a box-like main body are make from clear plastic or opaque material. Clear material can encourage algal growth, which can be a maintenance chore if placed in a lighted area. Of course, opaque material does not allow the hobbyist to view its interior and results in guesswork should something unforeseen occur. That won't happen with AquaC protein skimmers.
Those are all the good points so to speak, yet being able to have one in an operating arena does offer the opportunity to see areas where questions arise and/or where I think further improvements may be possible. Since the long-term efficiency of any skimmer is tied to its cleanliness, I first questioned why the spray nozzle could not be easily removed if needed. I was informed that the original model's spray nozzle never clogged. Yet it could be rotated/unscrewed because it is flexible enough to barely get its angular horizontal length past the foam-collecting tower. Yet not without it rubbing quite hard on the tower column. Could be its owner may want to shorten it somewhat before the pump is connected. However, I would like to see future models with a more easily removable spray nozzle.
As for internal cleanliness, the lower internal portion of the skimmer body is reachable by hand and/or brush for cleaning through the non-removable foam collecting tower. But the air-mixing chamber in the upper portion of the skimmer body is not accessible. This is the area where air and water is thoroughly mixed. I wondered if salt creep might clog this area after the skimmer has been running for any length of time. This is what the owner said, "I've been running a few of the skimmers for about a year and a half, and the upper chamber does not get clogged at all since there is constant water flow up there. The only thing that does need occasional maintenance is the small air gap around the base of the foam tower - this is where the air gets sucked into the skimmer. I've found that after a couple months the salt creep begins to build up and should be wiped off. The special design of the spray injector, though, has large enough holes that I have not ever experienced a problem with this part clogging."
The removable waste collection cup is equipped with a side mounted drain fitting. It is side mounted because the cup does not overhang the foam-collecting column. Its also about one inch up the side of the cup which means about an inch of fluid will collect before it starts to drain. Since these compact skimmers are quite efficient they can produce copious amounts of waste fluids. That would require the drain be connected to a waste collection device, which in my opinion should be outfitted with air filter. AquaC doesn't offer optional waste collectors, but I think they should consider doing so. Also, only an additional quarter-inch in height is needed on any model to lift off the waste collection cup.
There are also some hobbyists that don't like self-draining collection cups because they prefer not to have one more thing standing around that needs servicing. For those hobbyists, AquaC skimmers need larger waste collection cups, and their covers could be equipped with an activated carbon air filter. Another item AquaC may want to consider.
Even though AquaC notes in their literature they addressed the problem of small bubbles being returned to the aquarium with the insertion of the angular deflection plate, there still was some bubbles being returned to the aquarium with the test model. This seems to be prevalent in all efficient, yet compact skimmers. As noted in other reviews of similar products, a partition across the upper level of sump or a sock-like filtration bag/hollow sponge tubing located over the unit's outflow tube could be used to resolve this small nuisance. Yet, I must say the amount of bubbles being discharged/entering the aquarium from this skimmer were almost insignificant.
Even though AquaC skimmers are ozone safe, their literature does not express that important subject matter. Nor are their units equipped with a fitting where ozone could be applied if so desired. I think its two areas where future improvements should be considered. However, I understand the units can be ordered with an optional ozone fitting for an extra ten dollars.
As with all good protein skimmers, AquaC provides a warranty. Even though it is only good for 90 days, the product is so sturdy that anything longer is probably not needed. There is also a web site to visit, however it is just forming and there's not much available data yet to behold. I'm sure that will be rectified by the time you read this review.
After five days of testing the EV-150, the upper portion of the foam-collecting tower was entirely coated with a thick layer of black sludge. There was an inch of dark yellow water in the collection cup, and about two inches of a darker liquid in the connected one gallon waste collector (a plastic distilled water container). The consistency of the skimmer's foam was excellent and its noise level was quite low. Salt creep had already started to accumulate around the base of the foam tower. Yet, it would be a simple matter of wiping off any heavy accumulation and I considered this small on-going maintenance chore a non-issue.
With their compact size; quick and easy cleaning accessibility to its more important internal areas; and, a non-clogging spray nozzle their maintenance appears to be quite less than what there is with most other brand skimmers! There's no doubt these compact, yet highly efficient protein skimmers, will find a way into the hearts of many hobbyists.In fact, larger units can be custom ordered for stores or public aquariums.
There's also hang-on-the-side units on the drawing board. I can't wait to see them! AquaC protein skimmers are well worth taking a look at if you're in the market for a protein skimmer.
© Marine Fish Monthly Magazine/Bob Goemans, Ph.D.