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7.2.7. Bio Balls

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Author : David Bogert

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Time To Read :
2 minutes
Difficulty : Level 7

Excerpt :

Bio Balls Aquarium are a relatively poor aquarium filter media.

The data on the master table for bio balls was:

surface area calculations for bioballs
surface area calculations for bioballs

Bio balls have a moderately low surface area which make them one of the less efficient biomedia for submerged filters. This was confirmed by a test run on the ammonia oxidizing capability of various filter media. Bio balls did not perform very well in this test.

A test of ammonia oxidizing capability of various filter media was run. The first number, the “efficiency” is the average ammonia oxidizing that 15 cubic inches of media accomplished over a 90-day period. The second number is the “effective” surface area in square feet per cubic feet calculated from that test. The third number is the effective surface area in square feet per cubic feet calculated by simple mathematics. The correlation between the test results and the calculated surface area is very significant and means the testing was accurate.

Media“Efficiency” from two tests *“Effective” surface area ft²/ft³ ft²/ft³ from math“Effective” surface area m²/m³m²/m³ from math
Fluidized K1 medianot tested600na1980na
30 PPI foam1734040011221320
Pot scrubbers1428080924264
Static K1 media13260200858660
20 PPI foamnot tested220180726594
Aquarium gravel6120120396396
Blue Matala pads5100120330396
Eshoppe bioballs510060330198
¼ to ½ inch lava rocks36060198198
Matrix3603019899
Biohome ultimate2403013299
Ceramic rings24040132132
* average ammonia oxidizing that 15 cubic inches (245,81 cm³) of media accomplished over a 90-day period

The higher the numbers here the better the media. This makes 30 ppi foam the best static media for canisters and ceramic rings the worst. Bioballs did not do too well in these two tests.

But bio balls are the best media for aerating trickle filters. There are many variations on bioballs. For instance:

Good Bio Ball design from Seapora
Good Bio Ball design from Seapora

Good Bio Ball design from Eshopps
Good Bio Ball design from Eshopps

The bioballs with an open design and cylindrical plastic surfaces are the best media for trickle filters.

One type of bioball has a hollow center filled with urethane foam. Sounds good, but since there is no pressure drop across the foam in a submerged filter, there is going to be very little flow through the foam. Which means it is just a good marketing talking point, not a true benefit.

Foam Bio Balls, not a good design.
Foam Bio Balls, not a good design.

This foam bioball media will be slightly better than straight bioballs in a trickle filter for biofiltration. The foam will adsorb water and move it though the foam as it drips onto the bioballs, which will give some added biofiltration. The foam does nothing for aeration.

Note that some bioballs have narrow slots molded in them which are less than the diameter of a drop of water (roughly 3 millimeters or 1/8 of an inch). These bioballs don’t work well in a trickle filter.

Not the best bioball design
Not the best bioball design

In small quantities bioballs are expensive ($15 to $40 per liter). In large quantities they are far less expensive ($3.48 for one gallon, $25 for one cubic foot or 7.5 gallons).

Note that trickle filters using bioballs have quite rightly fallen out of favor with home aquarists. Trickle filters have about 25% of the efficiency of a static submerged filter on a cubic inch to cubic inch basis.