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Old 09-24-2010, 02:43 AM   #1
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Cheap LED Refugium Light Project

I've got a 24 gal Nano Cube and I would grow chaeto in one of the built in chambers in the back of the tank. I've seen pictures of projects where a window of the black vinyl was cut away from the tank, exposing the clear acrylic so that a light source behind the tank could get to the vegetation growing inside. I just wasn't excited about adding another electronic device to my unit that had inefficient bulbs that had a reletively short life span. LEDs seemed to be the logical choice. Unfortunately commercially available LED fixtures are a little pricey. I'm new to this hobby, but I've worked in electronics for the past 35 years, so I fabricated a light of the size I need (6x3 inch lighting area) for a total of about eight bucks. I bought 20 5mm white LEDs with a 470 ohm current limiting resistors like the one in the photo below for $1 with $4.95 shipping from a Hong Kong vender on eBay.
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I then aquired a 2 sided plastic pencil box from a dollar store for a dollar.
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After the removal some of the internal dividers, I cut a window for the light to shine through, drilled 18 holes to mount the leds, and mounted them by anchoring them from behind with hot glue. I don't think they will run hot enough to remelt the glue. They haven't after running 6 hours.
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Since I was working with LEDs that had already had resistors attached, I was stuck with wiring them all in parallel so they had the full 12 volts from the power supply going across each of them. I cut some bus strips off of a small circuit board I had so I could have all the blacks running to the negative side and the reds running to the positive side of the power supply. It was the easiest way I could think of to have soldered connections everywhere. Boards like this can be had for a couple of bucks from Radio Shack. They easiest way to cut them is with a Dremel. I did all the cutting on the box with a Dremel too.
Here it is fired up. The LEDs are rated at a 30 degree spread, so at about 4 1/2" the light from each one overlaps.
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They are angled away from the camera because they are actually quite intense. They are rated at 20000mcd. They should keep the chaeto alive, only use about 750ma of power and last for between 30,000 and 50,000 hours. I'm going to attach it to the rear of my tank with velcro. Not bad for eight bucks huh? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Power is supplied by a 12 volt 1 amp "wall wart" power supply from an old router I had. If I had to purchase it, there is a used electronics store in town that has bins of them for $2.99.
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Old 09-24-2010, 03:00 AM   #2
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nice! how about a pic with it in place on the tank.
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Old 09-24-2010, 12:30 PM   #3
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I'm doing a burn in test on the bench to make sure there isn't any heat dissapation issues with the fixture or the power supply before I modify my tank. If all goes well, I'll probably install it tonight and I'll post pictures of that. So far after over 12 hours solid running time, the LEDs and the case are only very slightly warm to the touch.
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Old 09-24-2010, 01:02 PM   #4
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Nice job. Cant wait to see it in use.
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Old 09-24-2010, 06:25 PM   #5
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Refugium light installed

Ok, here's a shot of the "wall wart" power supply and the fixture being bench tested. I left it on for about 16 hours.
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With everything working flawlessly, I bit the bullet and cut a window into the center rear chamber on my Nano Cube, and installed the light.
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Surprisingly it doesn't look so much like a lighted pencil box velcroed to the back of an aquarium...to me.
Here is a top shot. It illuminates the rubble rock I have in the bottom of this chamber as well as the tank. I think chaeto with all its associated critters ought to do well back here.
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I noticed one of my larger maroon mushrooms relocating from the live rock to the back wall. Its stretched itself about 2 1/2". I've never seen one jump that far before. Maybe its trying to get to my new refugium in the back. Click image for larger version

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Anyway, it was a reletively easy project that took maybe 3 hours to fabricate, that cost very little. If you want to do something like this, there are many sources for components--including Hong Kong if you shop on eBay. You may have to get creative about a case for the fixture. I ran across that double sided pencil case and figured the electronics could go in the back and the LEDs could mount in the middle. This would allow clearance for them to stick out and not contact the aquarium wall. Good luck with your project.
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Old 09-25-2010, 01:44 AM   #6
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Finished product with chaeto

Ok, here is the finished project. I fabricated a clipon eggcrate to hold down the vegetation. It has a tendency to float.
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All the lights were out in the room. You can see how well the chaeto is illuminated.
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