The world is filled with conveyor belts. Taken along a system conveyor rollers, these incredible components of engineering often go unnoticed and therefore are underappreciated, but the entire world would have been a completely different place without them. They are utilised for anything from transporting heavy cases around shipping warehouses to the crucial element in food production operations.
Deep inside the Western Sahara, surrounded by nothing else but dry desert, stands the earth’s greatest conveyor belt system. It is so big in fact, that it can be seen from space. This huge construction stretches over 61 miles and it is utilised to carry phosphate rock over the desert.
The automated conveyor belt system begins its journey at the Bou Craa Phosphate Mine. Phosphate is required as a crucial agricultural fertiliser and this Moroccan-operated territory has around 85% of the world’s current reserves. Phosphate is sought after worldwide and we consume around Forty million tonnes per year, so it is clear why such a big structure needed to be created. The belt type is ST 2500 and it is only 80cm wide but features a maximum carrying capacity of 2000 tonnes of crude phosphate rock per hour. The numerous conveyor rollers that make up this system are essential to the smooth operation.
The Bou Craa phosphate mine was discovered in The late 1940s by the Spanish. The phosphate deposit located in the area were unusually close to the surface and were definitely of particularly high purity, therefore it made it an ideal location to mine, despite the fact that mining didn’t fully start until the 1960’s. Since the beginning of operations, the mine continues to expand and today covers a staggering 1,225 hectares. Its production in 2001 was 1.5 million metric tonnes of processed phosphate, an unusually huge proportion of the planet’s supply from just one mine.
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The belt, which is operating for more than 3 decades, finishes its 61 kilometre voyage at the El Aain shoreline where the load is processed and distributed. The belt is not enclosed and with time, drifting phosphate rock has been carried by the prevailing winds and miles of land south from the belt now looks totally white from outerspace.
The Bou Craa conveyor belt has such an important role to play that if it ever failed, food costs all over the world would substantially raise as stocks of phosphate fertiliser would become scarcer. Who’d have thought a simple conveyor belt will be so tied to the worlds food supply? With a modest amount of exaggeration, you might claim that the conveyor rollers and belt contained in this particular system are what allows millions of men and women around the globe to eat.
The Bou Craa conveyor is actually a feat of technology and one of a kind. It really is improbable that we will see another conveyor belt of similar proportions made in our lifetimes.