See update here:
My nano reef aquarium is usually 2-3*F hotter than the ambient room temperature (after the heater setpoint has been reached). This is a problem, since the temperature in my living room is often higher than 82*F in the summer. This puts the tank water at an uncomfortably high temperature (84+), and I think that the corals suffer from the temperature swings as well as the overall high values.
So, how to lower the tank temperature? For a 5 gallon tank like mine, a peltier heat pump like the Coolworks Ice Probe would seemingly be a good choice. I tried building just such a device a few years ago, and it was a big failure. I learned that peltier heat pumps cannot be controlled by raw pulse width modulation (PWM) signals, and they don't do well in thermostatic (on/off) systems either. One reason is that the semiconductors inside the Peltier device do not like the thermal shock of the constant on/off switching. Also, Peltier heat pumps are already horribly inefficient, and using PWM or on/off control makes things even worse. During the "off" cycle of either the PWM pulse or the on/off cycle, the heat will flow backward though the device -- the same heat that the device just pumped during the "on" part of the cycle. Think of bailing out a sinking boat with a bucket that has a huge hole in the bottom. The best way to control the peltier modules is to generate high-frequency PWM, then smooth it out with an inductor/capacitor filter. There is still the problem of the peltier junction's inefficiency, and the hot-side heatsink must be massive with a massive fan to make the system viable. Anyway, I haven't heard anything great about the Ice Probe, nor any other Peltier cooling systems designed for any application that requires a good amount of cooling. I have a thermoelectric refrigerator that is just marginally good enough for its purpose.
So, today's design for a new aquarium chiller will NOT use Peltier junctions, as much as I love the idea. I bought a $99 water cooler that uses a conventional compressor and r-134a refrigerant.
I filled the cooler with tap water, and mounted a Rio pump with an outgoing hose and return line.
The two hoses connect to a stainless steel coil. I've had this thing laying around my shop for a long time. It came out of junked, expensive lab equipment. It is non-magnetic, which indicates 3-series stainless steel. I'm guessing it's 316, which is highly corrosion resistant. Of course, the aquarium purists would insist on titanium, but I don't have any, nor do I think it's really necessary. I'd love to hear from anyone who saw a stainless steel chiller coil corrode, or definitively caused tank poisoning.
I melted a couple slots in my hang-on cheapo protein skimmer (it's not a Skilter, but very similar). I would have used a dremel, but I didn't feel like taking the filter off the tank, and I also wanted to avoid getting plastic shavings in the water. The stainless coil sits down into the slots and is just held by gravity.
The cooler is plugged in all the time. It keeps its insulated water chamber around 47*F. The Rio pump in the cooler is turned on and off by the PID temperature controller that I mentioned in a previous blog post. The controller can be configured to use a longer cycle time (eg 30 seconds) since it is controlling a pump, and it would not make sense to turn a pump on and off once per second as it would be for a heater.
The cooler is rated 86 watts. If this is what the compressor draws while normally running (I didn't check it). I would estimate the cooler can pump about 170 watts of heat (about 580 btu/hr). The coefficient of performance is around 2 for small compressor systems. For comparison, a large peltier device can move around 70W under ideal conditions, at a very specific current/voltage. The coefficient of performance for Peltier devices usually tops out around 1, and is often about 0.5 for realistic situations. So, a peltier pump drawing 86 watts, would only pump about 43 to 86 watts of heat.
I just installed this chiller today, so I'll monitor it on hot days and make another post about its performance.
- I previously worked on Virtual Reality and other hardware at Valve. I currently work at Google[x].
Prior to starting at Valve, I built computer peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and joysticks that were designed to be used inside MRI machines. My company, Mag Design and Engineering, sold these devices directly to researchers at academic institutions who used them to publish scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
After work, I spend time on many different types of projects that usually involve circuit design, machining, material selection, and general fabrication/hacking. My favorite place to be is my home workshop.
ben dot krasnow at gmail