The entire world is filled with conveyor belts. Pulled along a system conveyor rollers, these remarkable pieces of technology often go unnoticed and they are underappreciated, but the entire world would be a very different place without them. They are utilised for anything from moving heavy cases around shipping warehouses to a vital element in food production processes.
Deep inside the Western Sahara, surrounded by no other thing but dry desert, stands the earth’s largest conveyor belt system. It’s so big in fact, that it can be seen from space. This huge construction stretches over 61 kilometres and is utilised to transfer phosphate stone throughout the desert.
The automatic conveyor belt system begins its quest at the Bou Craa Phosphate Mine. Phosphate is utilised as a crucial agricultural fertiliser and this Moroccan-operated territory has above 85% of the world’s current reserves. Phosphate is in high demand around the world and we all use up around 40 million tonnes each year, so it is clear why such a large structure had to be built. The belt type is ST 2500 and is only 80cm broad but has a maximum transporting capacity of 2000 tonnes of raw phosphate rock per hour. The numerous conveyor rollers that make up this system are crucial to the smooth operation.
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The Bou Craa phosphate mine was discovered in The late 1940s by the Spanish. The phosphate deposits situated in the area were unusually near to the surface and were definitely of specially high purity, so it made it an excellent spot to mine, even though mining didn’t fully start until the 1960’s. Since the beginning of operations, the mine has continued to expand and now covers an astounding 1,225 hectares. The output in 2001 was 1.5 million metric tonnes of refined phosphate, an unusually huge percentage of the world’s supply from one mine.
The belt, which is functioning for over thirty years, finishes its 61 mile journey in the El Aain coastline where the load is processed and shipped. The belt is not enclosed and as time passes, drifting phosphate rock has been transported by the prevailing winds and kilometres of land south from the belt now appears entirely white from outerspace.
The Bou Craa conveyor belt has such an important role to play that in case it ever failed, food costs worldwide would significantly increase as stocks of phosphate fertiliser would come to be scarcer. Who would have believed a simple conveyor belt will be so tied in to the worlds food? With only a small amount of exaggeration, you could claim that the conveyor rollers and belt contained within this system are what enables billions of men and women around the world to eat.
The Bou Craa conveyor is actually a feat of technology and extraordinary. It’s unlikely that we will see one more conveyor belt of comparable proportions built in our lifetimes.