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DIY High Power LED Aquarium Lighting – Part I

By keno | December 23, 2009

DIY High Power LED Aquarium Lighting – Part I

I wanted to create a high powered LED lighting system for my aquariums. I decided instead of putting all the information into one article to break the information down into different sections and explore the cost, how do LED’s work, what materials will I need, the build, etc. I hope your enjoy this…..

A Word of Caution:

This project involves the use of electricity, power tools, and high power LEDs. Before you tinker with LEDs or any electrical materials, be sure you understand the risks involved. This series of articles was created simply to share what I’ve done. These are not verified instructions. I take no responsibility for any harm caused to you, others, or to your property as a result of the info contained in these articles.

To Build or Not to Build….

I had been reading on the internet about using high powered LED’s to provide light for an aquarium. I have freshwater tanks with plants and I was looking for alternatives to compact fluorescent lighting. I have 3 tanks; a 20 gallon, a 55 gallon and a 200 gallon. I have a standard compact fluorescent fixture for my 20 gallon, I have compact fluorescent fixtures for my 200 gallon, but I needed something for my new 55 gallon. Plus I figured if the 55 gallon worked well, I would upgrade my 200 gallon fixtures. Additionally the cost to create an LED fixture for the 55 gallon would not break the bank and I could test and refine the design for the 200 gallon.

High Powered LED Pros:

Super bright light (high lumens) similar to Metal Halide.

Pure white light 6500K – 10,000K range

LED’s will not transfer heat to the aquarium. We’ll talk about heat dissipation in the cons section.

LED’s will last a long, long time. The LED’s I was looking at will maintain their light output for around 11 years running 12 hours a day. The LED’s themselves will last longer most likely 15+ years.

Dimming –  Yes you can dim LED lights.

Readily available.

You get a really cool shimmering effect similar to sunlight shining in a pool.

High Powered LED Cons:

Cost – If you go and purchase one of the few LED fixtures available today, plan on spending big bucks. A 5 LED fixture will cost around $200 dollars, and typically you need more than just one. Larger systems will cost thousands.

Cost – The cost to build is not inexpensive either. I did do a cost justification, see below.

Heat Dissipation – High Powered LED’s generate heat that needs to be pulled from the device and then dissipated typically into the air. This involves the use of a heat sink type device. If you ever looked into a home PC and looked at the processor you would see a heat sink device. This device pulls heat from the processor and dissipates it to the air typically with a fan.

When completed in a fixture the heat sinks add a lot of weight to the fixture. Each heat sink I used weighs 4.5 lbs. I found that heat sinks were not that easy to find on the internet. I did find some sites that would create a heat sink to fit my needs, but the cost was outrageous, in the hundreds of dollars. I have an idea on how to build my own, which I will explore in another article.

Cost Justification:

To build one yourself is also not inexpensive, and requires a bit of electronic knowledge. I looked at it this way. I have a JBL light fixture that has 4 compact fluorescent bulbs. The cost to replace these bulbs is around $35 a bulb. 4 x $35 is around $140 dollars. Now these bulbs should be replaced every 12 months. If you follow my thinking, if I have to replace the bulbs every year at a cost of $140 dollars times the 11 year life of the LED fixture that cost is 12 x $140 = $1680. My cost breakdown showed that it would cost me about $260 (see below) to build myself. The payback period would be just over 2 years. Or you could look at it on a yearly basis and compare the $140 to $24 ($260 / 11 years). Now I did not take into account cost to run. Swapping the current compact fluorescent fixture for the LED one is probably an equal trade. If I had a MH fixture that of course would be different. Either way I figured it was worth the try.

Side Note: I have done additional research for components after I built my first unit and found that I can get the components listed below for less.

Cost breakdown:

LED’s – 12 @ $6.50 each = $78.00

Thermal Pads 12 @.49 each = $5.88

Heat Sinks – 2 @ $25.00 + 20.00 (shipping) = $70.00

Power Supply LED – 1 @ 39.95 = $39.95

12 Vdc Power Supply (for fans and dimming control) – $15.00

Fans – 4 @ 6.00 each = $24.00

Wire / Solder / Screws / etc. $30.00

Total: $260.00

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Topics: CREE xr-e Q5 DIY LED Aquarium Light, DIY Projects, My 55 gallon tank | 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “DIY High Power LED Aquarium Lighting – Part I”

  1. DiscusPotter8 Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Would this set up work with a 75 gallon planted tank? or do you thing i should do around 18-20 LEDs?

  2. keno Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    I am planning on building an LED light for my new 75 gallon. I am going to use 28 of the CREE xp-g R5’s in the fixture. Take a look at my other write up that I did for my 200 gallon aquarium: http://aquariums.seaspraydesigns.biz/category/diy-projects/cree-xp-g-r5-diy-led-aquarium-light/ Any other questions just let me know.

  3. DiscusPotter8 Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Okay thanks. I’m also planning to attach a lunar light with blue LED’s how many do u think i need for that? And they ar going to be well spread apart would i need a heatsink or would a fan be sufficient?

  4. DiscusPotter8 Says:
    November 29th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Also what color CREE xp-g R5? I see that there are 3 different colors

  5. keno Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 7:00 am

    As for the number it depends on lunar look. I would start with 8 LED’s. The LED’s can be low power LED’s and you can run them at a low current, say 350ma. I would think that they would not need a fan, but you can check the temps of the heat sinks and see if you need the fan on or not. I would think for convenience you would just attach them to the heat sinks.

  6. keno Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 7:04 am

    As for the color if you look at the CREE xp-g R5 LED’s spec sheet http://www.cree.com/products/pdf/XLampXP-G.pdf you want the cool white XPGWHT-L1-0000-00H51

  7. Discuspotter8 Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Have you ever used these dimmers: http://www.rapidled.com/servlet/the-118/2-Color-Dimming-Kit/Detail

    And why size meanwell would I need to run the 8 LEDs?

  8. DiscusPotter8 Says:
    November 30th, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    What if i used CREE XR-E Blue Lunar LED’s and only used six of them? Would that work?

    And again what meanwell?

    Thank you this is my first aquarium DIY build and i don’t want to mess it up.

  9. keno Says:
    December 1st, 2010 at 10:11 am

    No I have not used the power supply dimming kit from rapidled. I use the following:

    SYS1308-2412-W2 Regulated Switching Adapter

    24W 12VDC 2.00 Amp

    Plug type: 2.1 x 5.5 mm Female

    Input Voltage Type: Universal Range

    AC Input Voltage: 90~264 Vac

    AC Input Frequency: 47~63 Hz

    AC Input Current: 1A RMS

    No. of Outputs: Single O/P

    Load Regulation: +/-5%

    Min. O/P Amper: 0A

    Operation Temperature: 0~40°C

    Protection: Short, Over Voltage, Over Current

    MTBF: 35 000 Hours

    Hold Up Time: 10 ms

    Safety: cUL, CE

    Weight: 143 grams

    Dimension: 75 mm (L) x 34 mm (W) x 43 mm (H)

    I found them on ebay for around $8.00.

    I get the DC power connector, potentiometers and resistors from Radio Shack.

  10. keno Says:
    December 1st, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I have not setup any lunar LED’s. To answer your question, you can start with 6 and see how it looks.

    If you are not looking to dim the LED’s you could go with the meanwell LPC-35-700. It is fixed at 700ma. It would easily handle 6 of the CREE xr-e blue LED’s and if you needed to add more blue LED’s you could go to 12. The LPC-35-700 can output up to 48Vdc.

  11. warren Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Hi Ken,

    I’m in the planning stage of changing my 180 gal from goldfish to planted. Thankyou
    warren

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