Trade winds for Ayro

For a long time, merchant ships sailed under the power of the wind. Then, 150 years ago, steam, before diesel, relegated Eole to a role of extra. The industrial start-up Ayro, which has just raised 10.5 million euros to decarbonise maritime transport, and one of whose co-founders is an ENSTA Paris graduate, is well on the way to giving it a new lease of life.

The adventure of what was to become Ayro began in earnest in 2010, during the 33rd America's Cup on the waters of Valencia, Spain. The winner, BMW Oracle's USA 17 trimaran, is equipped with a 68-metre high rigid wing, the span of a Boeing 747-8. Designed by Marc Van Peteghem of the naval architecture firm VPLP, the wing is proving even more efficient than expected, propelling the boat at more than 33 knots in a 10-knot wind. It was a real revelation, and Marc Van Peteghem immediately saw the potential of this technology for merchant ships.

USA 17 équipé de son aile rigide de 68 mètres
Le trimaran USA 17 équipé de son immense aile rigide de 68 mètres, vainqueur de la 33e édition de la Coupe de l'America. Auteur de la photo : Pedro de Arechavaleta CC BY-SA 3.0

A few years later, Nicolas Sdez finished his training at ENSTA Paris, after a year's academic break at the Politecnico di Milano where he had completed a master's degree in aeronautics.

In search of a company likely to host his end-of-studies project, he sent a CV to the VPLP agency, where Marc Van Peteghem accepted his application because Nicolas combines rare skills: he came from a general engineering school where he specialised in maritime engineering, and he completed this training with a master's degree in aeronautics. The ideal profile when you want to graft aircraft wings onto boats.

Nicolas Sdez, ENSTA Paris 2014,5
Nicolas Sdez, ENSTA Paris 2014,5

Nicolas Sdez quickly became enthusiastic about this innovative wind propulsion project. But the challenges are considerable. Four fundamental technical criteria have to be met, which are apparently incompatible with the principle of a rigid wing: it must be able to be lowered quickly, its surface area must vary on demand, and it must be manufactured automatically. In addition to these technical criteria, there is a fifth condition, which is even more restrictive than the previous ones: guaranteeing shipowners a return on their investment in a sufficiently short period of time so that the operation is not only ecologically virtuous, but also profitable.

The collaboration between Marc Van Peteghem and Nicolas Sdez went so well that in 2018 they founded Ayro together after filing several patents.

With an unusual "industrial start-up" format, Ayro's objective today is to move into the industrial production phase of Oceanwings, these wing-sails that allow hybrid propulsion of merchant ships and reduce fuel consumption by 10 to 45% depending on speed.

L'usine Ayro où seront produit les Oceanwings
L'usine Ayro où seront produits les Oceanwings, dans le port de commerce de Caen-Ouistreham

A major advantage of the concept is that it can be installed as a retrofit on existing vessels as well as on new vessels optimised for the system. This will be the case for the first operational vessel equipped with Oceanwings, the Canopée, a ro-ro ship, which will transport Ariane 6 launcher parts between Europe and French Guiana. It will receive its "wings" at the end of 2022 for the first sea trials in 2023.

"Within the framework of the Ariane 6 programme and in the face of international competition, one of ArianeGroup's major objectives is to reduce costs in all areas. They are confident that the significant fuel savings achieved by the Oceanwings will enable them to recoup their investment," says Nicolas Sdez.

Le Canopée, premier navire équipé d'Oceanwings dès la conception
Le Canopée, premier navire équipé d'Oceanwings dès la conception, qui assurera le transport d'éléments d'Ariane 6 depuis l'Europe jusqu'au port spatial de Guyane.

ENSTA Paris in force at Ayro


Of the 21 staff members that Ayro has today, four are ENSTA Paris graduates: Nicolas Sdez (2014.5), co-founder, Ludovic Gérard (1995), general manager, Giorgio Provinciali (1993), technical director, and Sebastien Le Bouteiller (2021), performance engineer.


How do you explain this large number of people? Nicolas Sdez has his own idea: "We mustn't forget that maritime engineering is one of ENSTA Paris's historical fields of study, which is particularly evident in its 3rd year course "offshore transport and energy structures". Moreover, it is a generalist school with a high scientific level, which allows us to understand many different disciplines and to have a real systems vision. This is exactly what we need for Oceanwings, which are propulsion systems that combine aerodynamics, composites, mechanics, mechatronics and automation. We are really into this system design logic, with complex and multidisciplinary ins and outs.

So, as it is customary to say at ENSTA Paris, "Good luck to Ayro!


Une partie de l'équipe Ayro.
Une partie de l'équipe Ayro. Nicolas Sdez est deuxième à partir de la gauche, Marc Van Peteghem premier à partir de la droite