The world is filled with conveyor belts. Pulled along a system conveyor rollers, these amazing pieces of engineering often go unnoticed and they are underappreciated, but the entire world would have been a completely different place without them. They are used for anything from transporting heavy cases around shipping warehouses to a crucial element in food manufacturing operations.
Deep inside the Western Sahara, surrounded by no other thing but unwelcoming wasteland, stands the earth’s largest conveyor belt system. It’s so huge actually, that it can be seen from space. This huge structure expands over 61 miles and is utilised to transfer phosphate rock through the desert.
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The automatic conveyor belt system starts its journey at the Bou Craa Phosphate Mine. Phosphate is required as a vital agricultural fertiliser and this Moroccan-handled territory has around 85% of the world’s current reserves. Phosphate is in high demand around the globe and we all use up about Forty million tonnes annually, so it is obvious why such a large structure had to be created. The belt model is ST 2500 and it is only 80cm broad but features a peak carrying capacity of 2000 tonnes of crude phosphate rock per hour. The numerous conveyor rollers that make up this system are crucial to the easy functioning.
The Bou Craa phosphate mine has been found in The late 1940s by the Spanish. The phosphate deposit located in the area have been unusually near to the surface and were definitely of particularly high purity, so it made it a great spot to mine, even though mining did not fully begin before the 1960’s. Since the start of operations, the mine has continued to expand and now covers an incredible 1,225 hectares. The production in 2001 was 1.5 million metric tonnes of refined phosphate, an unusually large percentage of the planet’s supply from a single mine.
The belt, that has been operating for longer than 3 decades, ends its 61 kilometre journey in the El Aain coastline where the load is refined and distributed. The belt is not encased and as time passes, moving phosphate rock has been transported by the prevailing wind and miles of land south of the belt now appears completely white from space.
The Bou Craa conveyor belt has such an important role to play that in case it ever failed, food prices worldwide would substantially raise as stocks of phosphate fertiliser would become scarcer. Who would have thought a simple conveyor belt can be so tied in to the worlds food supply? With only a tiny bit of overstatement, you might say that the conveyor rollers and belt contained within this system are what enables billions of people around the world to eat.
The Bou Craa conveyor is a feat of technology and one of a kind. It is improbable that we’ll see another conveyor belt of comparable dimensions made in our lifetimes.