Ships of the desert


The Volvo articulated haulers working on the El Mhir quarry in Algeria are proving invaluable in helping this rapidly developing nation to improve its infrastructure. 

Algeria is a vast, yet largely deserted, North African country, with much of its 2.4 million km2 lying within the arid zone of the Sahara Desert. Algeria was once an integral part of France, until it secured its independence in 1962. Now, fuelled by its mineral riches, especially oil, Algeria has embarked on an ambitious infrastructure development plan that will improve living conditions and the transport network for its 35 million countrymen.

The key material in improving infrastructure on a national scale is concrete – and a key component of that is aggregate. So the government is authorizing new licences to quarry at carefully selected sites around the country. The El Mhir Quarry, 230 km east of the capital Algiers, is one of these sites. The quarry is owned and operated by Bensebaa, a family firm that waited four years for permission to start working the site, which eventually came with a 50 year concession in 2007. At 320,000 m2 the site needed extensive preparatory works – geological testing, construction of haul roads and establishing a modern crushing plant onsite. This process took two years and the quarry finally went into production in December last year.

White, hot and dusty
There is much work for the company’s 50 employees to be done at El Mhir. The quarry has proven reserves down to 70 meters, giving the site an expected economic lifespan of around 60 years.

“One advantage of the site is that there is almost no overburden, so we can get right down to blasting,” says chief mine engineer Abdelrachid Kirtache. “We have very quickly ramped-up production to our current output of 3,000 tonnes per day.”

Blasting happens twice a month, a limitation set by the local police authorities to prevent explosives falling into the hands of a small band of terrorists that Algeria still endures. Each blast requires an enormous 3.5 tonnes of dynamite and puts over 50,000 tonnes of rock on the ground. As the exact timing of the delivery of the explosives is kept secret, Mr. Kirtache has to be ready with his 120 bore holes well in advance of the blast.

Currently, a large proportion of the quarry’s output is sent to the company’s own concrete plant, some 60km away from the site, which makes kerbs and other products for use on highway developments. The biggest by far of these road projects is the East-West Highway, which stretches 1,200 km from Algeria’s border with Tunisia on the East to Morocco on the West.

The right tools for the job
Among the seven Volvos used on the site, since June last year, are a pair of A35E articulated haulers, a brace of EC460BLC excavators, a giant EC700B excavator, and two wheel loaders – a L180E and L220E.


Although none of the haul roads exceed an incline of more than 10%, the turns are narrow and so the Volvo haulers’ agility has proven far greater than the rigid haulers that the company originally focused on. The EC700B is at the rock face loading the haulers while the EC460BLCs are breaking bigger rocks and tidying up the face. The wheel loaders have an easier life, working in the yard loading the 100 trucks that arrive at the site each day.

“It makes sense to give the workers the right tools for the job,” says Mr. Kirtache. “Of course, there are plenty of cheaper machines that I could have chosen, but we need support and reliability in the work we do. The Volvos are easy to use, comfortable and proving their worth every day in these very demanding conditions. People work harder and faster if they are comfortable, so in these hot conditions things like air conditioning are necessities, not luxuries.”

The dust on the site is choking, with no moisture in the air to dampen things down. But with their extensive filters and close attention to regular maintenance (such as replacing the oil bath pre-cleaner every couple of days), the Volvos are proving highly resistant to the terrain.

There are ambitious plans for expanding the El Mhir quarry into a new zone that is more than twice the size of the current plot. This won’t happen overnight, but Volvo will be ready and willing to add its muscle to the development of this most exciting and overlooked African country.


November, 2010

Text: Brian O’Sullivan

Picture 1: Volvo construction equipment is working in tough conditions on the El Mhir quarry in Algeria.
Picture 2: Chief mine engineer Abdelrachid Kirtache.

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Bill Law
Director, External Communications
Volvo Construction Equipment
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Brian O’Sullivan
Tel: int +44 77 333 50307