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    Aquarium LEDs, A Practical Reality if Used Properly

    Why LEDs are ready for practical and affordable use… That is if we alter the way we think about aquarium lighting and play to their strengths. Much like the pile-o-rock wall was become a staple in the hobby, so has the idea that lighting must be even throughout an entire tank. This would be true if […]

    Why LEDs are ready for practical and affordable use… That is if we alter the way we think about aquarium lighting and play to their strengths.

    Much like the pile-o-rock wall was become a staple in the hobby, so has the idea that lighting must be even throughout an entire tank. This would be true if we kept large dominating colonies of similar species in the aquarium, but very few reefs take this true reef bio-tope approach. Rather we place Acropora, Montipora, Acanthastrea, Ricordia, Euphyllia and Tridacna in one jumbled mess as we attempt to mimic large stretchs of coral reef inside the confines of a glass box.


    Flickr: Creative Commons S. Copley

    When we think of the aquarium lighting we must realize the crucial limitations. Traditional aquarium heights do not allow for proper PAR and spectral shifts as seen in nature. The color spectrum and intensity where Acropora formosa and Acanthastrea lordhowensis occur are starkly different. Even the changes in intensity and spectrum at 5m, 10m, and 20m are all very different…. yet we force all these animals to adapt under the light that we conveniently provide. That’s not to say they cannot adapt, but is it optimal? I would argue in most cases it is not. This why I am a proponent of spotlight or area focused lighting. It allows a specific quality of light to be focused for a coral’s specific needs. All while lending to reduced electric consumption and light spill.

    One new lighting technology can take the idea behind spotlighting a step further to coral specific lighting, while being affordable and practical for average sized aquaria–LEDs.

    The biggest complaint of current LED technology for aquariums is spread. It takes numerous LED fixtures (of those currently available) to cover an aquarium with any front-to-back depth. We can increase the light spread of LEDs by forgoing optics, but then penetration and PAR levels at depth are sacrificed. This coupled with the high cost of available LED fixtures has cast the current use of this budding technology in doubt. 

    The future use of LEDs is a near given, but I strongly believe they can be affordably applied to aquariums now if we play to their strengths. Early LED fixtures have gone wrong by trying to illuminate an entire tank with large bulky fixtures (and inadequate intensity for SPS). However, if LEDs are used to highlight specific areas and corals we can utilize the best of what the current technology has to offer. Energy efficient, small, controllable, and focused. LED fixtures currently on the domestic market have failed to exploit these advantages. 


    A blue LED spotlight shows its focused and powerful beam

    LEDs ought to trigger the development of luminaires previously not attainable. Sticking with traditional halide looking hoods with LEDs creates a focused light beam parallel to the front and back glass (a la Solaris) prohibiting creative aquascaping and coral placement.

    If creative mounts are utilized, such as clip-on, you have a universal point source light that can be used to efficiently supplement existing aquarium lighting with the par and spectrum desired. The space required for LEDs is far less than metal halides or fluorescents, making them easy to place where desired.

    For example, a standard 75g aquarium mixed reef could be adequately illuminated with two 150w 20K halides (in high quality reflectors), while supplementing with high power LEDs with narrow optics to pack additional punch for light demanding corals while warming the spectral quality to mimic their shallow water homes. This could be done with well under 400w, less than the standard dual 250w Halide set up used (500w) and still providing higher quality light by addressing the photosynthetic needs of each coral or coral groupings.


    An LED spotlight from Japan

    With the limitations that LEDs currently have (technologically and legally; Orbitec patent info here), spotlights are the most practical solution.  If we are to continue our mixed reef trend, coral specific lighting is a must– In my opinion the use of supplemental LEDs is a great way to start this shift. In the future GBD will have more on the use of LED spotlights including a simple DIY high power LED Spot.


    1. April 20, 2009 at 1:21 PM | Permalink

      Really like the concept. If someone said here’s 400watts, but you have to make 200 watts shine on the floor we all would tell that person they’re crazy. But we are totally fine with spreading 200 watts over areas where there are no corals at all in our tank.

      Not entirely the same, but somewhat similar concepts.

    2. D Morel
      April 20, 2009 at 3:15 PM | Permalink

      I would even suggest that LED spotlighting can be used for (mere) aesthetic purposes to highlight certain corals, or groups of corals. I’m currently playing around with several led spotlights I acquired inexpensively via ebay in blue, green, and red to bring out the highlights of certain corals. Of course, this is counter to your idea of using focused LED to aid in lighting intensity for those demanding species, but for many of us that have adequate lighting intensity clip on LED spotlighting can still provide a tangible benefit for the viewing of our livestock at a very reasonable cost.

    3. April 20, 2009 at 3:28 PM | Permalink

      @DM, Absolutely. For this same reason I utilize a red LED spotlight to pop a pink Seriatopora hystrix. It also adds some warmth to an otherwise very blue superkaru lit reef.

    4. timmmysli
      April 22, 2009 at 2:01 AM | Permalink

      I’m currently building a led system for my new cube and I have planned to group together the leds (with 20 deg optics)above specific corals in the tank. leds are starting to get cheaper I’ve recently purchased 20x 3.7w leds for just under $150AU so that just highlights the fact that led systems for our reefs will become more affordable soon.

    5. Iris
      January 15, 2010 at 3:37 AM | Permalink

      Dear Sir/Madam,

      Good Day

      This is Iris Li from Sipros (China) electronics Co., Ltd. we are specialize in LED Aquarium products and offer customer high quality products with competitively pricing . We are as well specialized to customize products for your requirement.

      If you are interested in ,Pls let know , we will send you catalogue and price list accordingly

      Any queries, Pls. feel free to contact with me

      Thanks & Regards,

      Sipros Electronics Co.,Ltd.
      Tel:+86 755 82853990
      MP:+86 13724347562
      Fax:+86 755 83155696
      Add:6F Block 2,Chagong building,Jintian Road.
      Futian Distinct,Shenzhen,China
      We're More Than Lighting

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    1. […] still will not have the intensity required to support most corals. Despite my recent ramblings on LED spotlights, these units appear to be abetter fit for the fish only or azoox […]

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