Updated: Nov 14, 2021
As an amateur perfectionist I like to make sure whatever I'm doing is practiced in the most efficient way. If there is some procedure or technology that can be utilized to increase performance or success, I want to implement it. This aspect of my personality manifests itself in several ways, many of which are with my aquariums, specifically my planted aquariums.
Planted aquariums have always been my favorite, and high-tech planted aquariums are the best method to get the most out of a planted tank. A high-tech planted tank is simply the implementation of extra technology to grow your plants fuller, faster, and with more color. If you don't use the extra tech it's considered a low-tech planted tank. Low-tech tanks are completely viable, and depending on the type of plants you get, will perform just fine for an easy planted experience. In this article I'll focus on what a high-tech planted tank is and what that means for your aquarium.
The main component of a high-tech planted tank is the method by which you add CO2 to the tank. This is the primary "extra tech" that makes the tank high-tech. A good light, fertilizers and no CO2 is considered low-tech. A more powerful light is required when you add CO2, but a decent plant light is necessary no matter what tech you have. Lighting can be measured by photosynthetically active radiation, or PAR output. This is the measurement of intensity most aquarium lighting companies use. It is the amount of light that reaches your plants so they can use it for photosynthesis. Measurements can also be made in watts/gallon. PAR is usually measured at a depth of 12-18 inches. At this depth, a low PAR is 15-35, medium is 25-65, and high is 65-120. In watts/gallon this is 0.4-0.5, 0.5-0.7, and 0.7-1.1 respectively, Basically, this means a "good light" for low-tech tanks will put out 15-50 PAR, and a powerful light for high-tech tanks will put out 50-120 PAR at a depth of 12-18 inches.
PAR 12 inch depth
Before I get into the methods of adding CO2, lets discuss why a more powerful light is necessary when adding CO2. It comes down to "limiting factors". Limiting factors are the unmet conditions that prevent the desired result. In the case of aquarium plants, consider the factors required for growth; light, CO2 (carbon), and fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium). When all of these factors have been met equally, there are no factors limiting growth. When all but one factor is met, the unmet factor becomes the limiting factor to growth.
We can see this happen in high-tech tanks when you add CO2 and fertilizers, and your light then becomes the limiting factor for plant growth. When you increase the light, then CO2 becomes the limiting factor and so on. It's perfectly okay to have limiting factors, the key is to know which one is limiting growth so you can increase it to achieve the optimal rate of growth for your preference. For example, I could double my light's time on, increase Co2, and add twice as many fertilizers, but I don't want my plants to grow that quickly or my light on that long. Limiting factors really only come into play when you have on or two out of three factors drastically outperforming another and your plant growth suffers for it. If your limiting factor(s) is only incrementally lower than the other(s), you can consider the factors balanced.
So let's say you are dosing fertilizers and your light is sufficient, but your plant growth is slow and scraggly. Adding a CO2 system to make your tank high-tech will increase that limiting factor resulting in fuller and faster growth. The most common method for diffusing CO2 into your tank is a CO2 cylinder, regulator with solenoid, bubble counter, and diffuser.
To upgrade your tank to an even higher level of tech you can use a dosing pump system to add your fertilizers. There are a plethora of companies that offer single pump or multiple controllable pumps in one unit. The basic principle is the same. The pump slowly adds a measured amount of fertilizer to the tank at the rate you choose. In addition to CO2 and a powerful light, you'll have one of the highest-tech planted tanks.
In the end though, the simplest definition of a high-tech planted tank is an aquarium with a method for diffusing CO2. Adding CO2 may also mean increasing your light and fertilizers to prevent limiting factors, but these upgrades are not absolutely necessary to be counted as high-tech.
Of course this just scratches the surface of what goes into a high-tech planted tank. I hope this article at least gave you some idea of where to start. High-tech planted tanks don't have to be complicated, anyone can learn how to build one, and they are one of my favorite types of setups for sure.