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Lighting your reef with LEDs - DIY (Part 1)


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  1. #1
    XSiVE - Reefkeeper
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    Default Lighting your reef with LEDs - DIY (Part 1)


    Introduction

    LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes are direct current (DC) electronic components that produce light as electricity passes through them. They have been used for years in home electronics but until recently they have not been powerful enough or had the lifespan to price ratio to compete with traditional aquarium lighting. Today that is changing and as LED technology advances it is quickly moving into the aquarium hobby. Several vendors are producing very nice fixtures, but with the technology still in its toddler years and a limited product selection due to patents in the U.S. many people are taking on the challenge of lighting their reefs with LEDs by themselves.

    This article is divided into three parts. Part 1 will focus on the basic ideas used in typical DIY reef LED lighting systems. Part 2's focus is on the components that can be used. Part 3 is how to choose components and implement ideas and components to design and build an LED fixture to best fit your reef's needs. After reading all three parts, you should have gained some general knowledge of how LED lighting works in reef keeping, how to pick out the LEDs that will fit your needs, some of the typical options or configurations and how to piece it all together into a working system. Before getting into a build I suggest you have some basic knowledge of how DC circuits work, what voltage, current, and resistance are, and also how they relate to one another (Ohm's law).

    Rethinking Reef Lighting

    There are some new ideas with LEDs that we just are not used to. First thing's first: Anything you think you know about "wattage=brightness" of lights, toss it out the window when it comes to LEDs. You can have two LEDs that are both "3Watt" but one can be twice as bright as the other. If you're comparing one to another similar white LED for example, what matters would be the luminous flux at a given current (in milliamps). Other color LED brightness may be found in measurements other than lumens but the point stands that wattage is not a good measurement for comparison.

    Secondly, if an LED fixture is built properly it will out-perform and out-last most of the current available reef lighting solutions. To consider performance, I think it is best to consider efficiency by PAR ratings & power consumption(watts) compared to Metal Halide or T5. As a general rule, when comparing PAR : wattage ratio of an LED fixture with high-quality emitters to traditional aquarium lighting setups, you can get an approximately equivalent amount of light with only one third traditional wattage. LED will have a higher up-front cost but it should be offset over time by energy savings and bulb replacement cost savings. Most LEDs used in reef settings have a estimated use of about 50,000 hours before we start to see some spectrum shift. Running at 12 hours a day, that equates to about 11 years of use before replacement costs come into consideration. Compare that to the 9-12 month replacement time frame on traditional bulbs and you can see how the cost savings can come back quickly.

    The Direction of Light

    LED lighting is also different from metal halide and fluorescent lighting because you will have many small point sources of highly directional light. This means we see very little wasted light going off in random directions. Take for example a metal halide bulb in a lumenbrite style reflector, even though the reflector has "99% reflective material" on the inside, a lot of the light energy is wasted as it bounces around in the reflector before finally being directed to the water surface. Also, consider that the light intensity change over distance is not linear(inverse square law), meaning that *if* light traveling 1" from source to destination has a PAR of 1000, then at 2" it should have 250 PAR, 4" it should have 62.5 PAR... and this is before the light even touches water... With this in mind it should start to become more clear how LEDs can produce so much PAR for so little power. This does come with the disadvantage that a light source directed in such a manner is not good for ambient lighting and as such your reef may seem slightly darker even if its inhabitants are actually receiving more intense light.

    Due to the highly directional nature combined with the modular and customizable nature of LED lighting, there are new possibilities that were not available with traditional reef lighting. You can design a system that, for example, doesn't waste light on your overflow(s) or has higher intensity over an individual rock structure. There are some down-sides including accidental spotlighting and the associated shadows as well as improper color blending, both of which can be overcome with a good design and proper (if necessary) optic choices. As for intensity, if some general guidelines are followed during your design phase then the question of enough PAR will never be on the top of your list of concerns. Something that will be high on your list of concerns will probably be a question of full light spread. This will be answered in the design section. Before design, however, It is necessary to know what components are involved.

    Check back for Part 2 which will discuss the components of an LED fixture.

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    Last edited by jimsflies; 03-10-2012 at 02:58 PM.

  2. #2
    jimsflies - Reefkeeper
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    Great write-up Ryan! I'd love to try LEDs over my biocube. Looking forward to seeing the other parts of the article.

  3. #3
    Sir Patrick - Reefkeeper A2 Club Coordinator
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    Default

    Awsome write up man! Very easy read!

  4. #4
    tankdude - Reefkeeper CR Member
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    Great write up! I'm looking forward to the rest of the article.

  5. #5
    ReeferRob - Reefkeeper CR Member
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    Ryan, thank you so much for putting the time and effort into this article. It's is very well written and I can't wait for installment #2!
    Last edited by ReeferRob; 11-18-2010 at 09:03 AM.
    "We shouldn't think of an environment where livestock can survive, we should ensure an environment where livestock can thrive."-Rabidgoose
    "If it's gonna be that kinda party, Ima stick my ........ in the mashed potatoes!"-Beastie Boys

  6. #6
    Mike - Reefkeeper CR Member
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    I think one of the main points in prolonging the life of each LED is proper heat transfer. They is why some sort of heat sink is needed. LED's can produce a rediculous amount of heat and it is radiated on the backside that is in contact with the heat sink. For this reason good designs incorporate active cooloing with computer style fans. If you keep the emitters cool they will last a long time.
    anacroporamademepoora
    --Lifetime member of the "No Mud Club".:

  7. #7
    keeplearning - Reefkeeper CR Member
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    Very well done.

  8. #8
    CR Member
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    Great write up. I love my led fixture can't beat the coral colors that pop under the royal blues.

  9. #9
    XSiVE - Reefkeeper
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    @Mike: I'll be going into details about specific parts such as heat sinks in the next installment, most of the content is actually done already, I just need to organize it and put together some images.

  10. #10
    CR Member
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    I would love to try this led light were can I get one of this light? Will this make the the corals grow?

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