A Feat of Engineering


The entire world is full of conveyor belts. Pulled along a system conveyor rollers, these incredible pieces of technological innovation often go unnoticed and they are underappreciated, but the entire world would have been a completely different place without them. They are utilised for anything from moving heavy boxes around shipping warehouses to the crucial element in food production operations.

Deep inside the Western Sahara, in the middle of nothing else but barren desert, stands the earth’s biggest conveyor belt system. It is so huge actually, that it could be viewed from space. This massive structure extends over 61 kilometres and it is used to move phosphate rock over the desert.

The automatic conveyor belt system begins its quest at the Bou Craa Phosphate Mine. Phosphate is used as a vital agricultural fertiliser and this Moroccan-controlled territory has around 85% of the world’s current reserves. Phosphate is in demand around the globe and we all consume around Forty million tonnes each year, so it’s clear why such a huge structure needed to be constructed. The belt model is ST 2500 and it is only 80cm wide but has a peak transporting capacity of Two thousand tonnes of crude phosphate rock an hour. The numerous conveyor rollers that comprise this system are essential to its smooth operation.

The Bou Craa phosphate mine has been found in 1947 by the Spanish. The phosphate deposit found in the area have been unusually near to the surface and were definitely of particularly high purity, so it made it a perfect spot to mine, despite the fact that mining did not entirely begin before the 1960’s. Since the beginning of operations, the mine continues to grow and today covers an astounding 1,225 hectares. Its output in 2001 was 1.5 million metric tonnes of refined phosphate, an abnormally huge percentage of the planet’s supply from a single mine.

The belt, which has been working for over three decades, ends its 61 kilometre voyage at the El Aain coastline where the load is processed and shipped. The belt isn’t encased and over time, moving phosphate rock continues to be carried by the prevailing winds and miles of land south of the belt now looks totally white from outerspace.

The Bou Craa conveyor belt has such a crucial role to play that in case it ever failed, food prices around the globe would substantially increase as supplies of phosphate fertiliser would become scarcer. Who would have thought a simple conveyor belt can be so tied to the worlds food supply? With only a small amount of exaggeration, you might state that the conveyor rollers and belt contained in this particular system are what allows billions of people around the world to eat.

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The Bou Craa conveyor is a feat of engineering and extraordinary. It’s improbable that we’ll see another conveyor belt of comparable proportions built in our lifetimes.