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hydrophonic balls

A little background.
I was a my brothers house last night and he is big into hydrophonic
gardening. I went to look at his setup and he had a fifty pound bag of
iron oxide looking balls. I asked him what these where and he said that
this is the substrate for the plants.
We cracked one open and they have a lava rock/barbecue heat rock like
I assume the coating is iron and the interior is inert glass, lava rock
or something similiar. Does anyone know about these hydrophonic balls?
He said they cost $35.00 for 50 lbs.- a whole lot less than laterite
balls at the fish store!
Also, while I'm posting. A word of warning with CO2 cylinders.
I just had mine refilled (actually exchanged) and brought it home and
hooked it up.
The tank was on the cool side when I brought it in. I readjusted flow
rates etc. then when to pick up my kid. Since it was above 32 degrees 
(63 degress) we decided to stop by the park for a swing. When we got
home my son asked, where are the fish in the tank!
The CO2 cylinder had warmed up and it was gushing into the tank. The pH
was below readable measure and the fish dead.
WORD OF WARNING: Let Co2 cylinders come to room temperature before
hooking them back up! It cost me all my fish!