Syntactic Foam Does the Job for Ocean Explorer

Syntactic Foam Does the Job for Ocean Explorer

Scott Cassell and his Great White submersible are going to great depths to stop ocean devastation.
Scott Cassell, undersea explorer, CEO and founder of the Undersea Voyager Project, spends most of his workday underwater. He stopped logging his underwater time when he reached 13,000 hours in 2007. “Frankly, I feel I am just getting started and cannot spend enough time underwater,” he says.

Cassell has dedicated his life to saving the ocean, working with scientists and researchers in an often-lonely battle to protect the sea. “If the seas fail, all of humankind goes extinct,” he warns. “Thousands of scientists around the world are screaming warning signs, and few care enough to listen to them.”

Undersea Voyager Project
There’s urgency to his mission, which is being addressed through the Undersea Voyager Project. The nonprofit project stems from a lifetime fascination with the sea. “Underwater, I have seen how spectacular life really is, and it’s worth saving just for the splendorous beauty it holds – much less the actual life-support system it harbors for our species,” he says.

Cassell spends much of his time in the Great White, a submersible that he recently rebuilt and outfitted with Trelleborg’s syntactic foam. This foam, the industry leader in strength-to-weight ratio, is designed to withstand depths of up to 11,000 feet under tremendous pressure. Since it weighs less than other foam, it can also carry a bigger payload, a real advantage in cramped quarters.

Holy grail for subsea applications
“Trelleborg’s syntactic foam is the holy grail for subsea applications because it is strong yet light,” says Bob Kelly, Vice President of Trelleborg Offshore & Construction in Boston, U.S. “It provides buoyancy at great depths and has very low water uptake, so it’s long-lasting as well.” Trelleborg’s foam typically lasts more than 20 years in sea environments.

Cassell welcomed the support Trelleborg gave him regarding the Great White, which has a depth limit of 500 fsw (feet of salt water). “I received engineering and kind guidance from Trelleborg,” he says. “I was educated on what the best foam was for our application and how much we would need.”

Reliability and durability
Cassell explains that a real benefit with Trelleborg’s syntactic foam is its machinability, shock resistance and strength-to-weight ratio. “We are a small operation, using a small submersible doing a huge job, often on TV,” he says. “Reliability and durability are paramount.”

The energetic explorer and his Great White are rarely stationary. This year alone his project will be going to Asia, the U.S. (the coast of California and Lake Tahoe), Britain’s Channel Islands and the Mexican Yucatan, to perform studies.

Memorable moments
Cassell has a long list of memorable sea moments, from riding on the back of a 3,500-pound great white shark off Guadeloupe Island, seeing hundreds of man-sized Humboldt squid and being pushed out of the water by the nose of a gray whale to being surrounded by dolphins, sardines, bronze whaler sharks and 20 gannets while a Bryde’s whale lunge-fed just a few feet away from him.

“Holding a baby octopus no larger than a pea in the palm of my hand as she walked around looking for food between my fingers was pretty memorable too,” he adds. “Sometimes the greatest gifts are the smallest.”

Making the world a better place
There have been plenty of dangers too, including facing angry poachers and having near-fatal mechanical problems at sea, but he brushes those away, pointing to the daily risks that many people face just getting into their cars.

The Undersea Voyager Project moves on, and Trelleborg is happy to contribute to it, says Bob Kelly. “We believe in what they are doing and support projects to preserve the environment,” he says. “Personally, I like the way Scott works with the scientific community and how they will be sharing the information to make the world a better place.” 

Trelleborg’s syntactic foam
Trelleborg provides buoyancy and insulation solutions primarily for the offshore oil and gas, marine and offshore fabrication markets. It is the supplier of choice for foam buoyancy systems suitable for subsea operations up to full ocean depth.

In addition to providing material for the Undersea Voyager Project, Trelleborg’s syntactic foam has been used in other scientific ocean projects, such as the Alvin submersible, used to explore the wreck of the Titanic. 

“They don’t build tons of these vehicles, but when they do, they come to us for the performance of the syntactic foam in submersible applications,” says Trelleborg’s Bob Kelly, pointing out syntactic foam’s safety features. “We’re talking about people’s lives, and you can’t put a price on that.”

Great White submersible
  • Operating depth: 500 feet
  • Weight: 3,000 pounds
  • Length: 14’ 2”
The Great White submersible is “a highly upgraded” Kittredge K-250 personal submarine. “The only thing left from the original design is the pressure hull,” says underwater explorer Scott Cassell. The Great White’s mission is to perform oceanic exploration and research by private citizens and teenagers while being overseen by scientists. All findings from this nonprofit organization are made public. “We love our Youth Ambassador Program in which we select 16 kids each year to learn how to become a submersible pilot,” says Cassell. 

The teens go through intensive training before putting on the orange flight suit of a sub pilot. Afterward, they must give three talks a year to other young people about their experiences. “In my humble opinion, this mission makes the sub a very magical machine,” Cassell says.

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