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Last updated date: 12th Jul 2024
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What is Bitumen?

If we define bitumen in simple terms, it is a substance that is formed by distilling crude oil and is known for its waterproofing and adhesive properties. Distillation of bitumen eliminates lighter crude oil components including gasoline and diesel, leaving only the "heavier" bitumen. To raise its grade, the manufacturer also refines it many times. 

Bitumen can also be found in nature, naturally occurring bitumen deposits can be found at the bottom of ancient lakes, where extinct animals have decayed and been exposed to heat and pressure. Bitumen meaning in the United States is Asphalt.  

Understanding Bitumen Definition

As we learn what is bitumen, if we look at its composition; calcium, iron, sulphur, and oxygen are all found in bitumen, which is made up of complex hydrocarbons. The source and type of crude oil used decides the material's consistency and ease of manufacture. Bitumen is also used in the construction industry. The substance's natural adhesive and waterproofing properties were first used to help bind construction materials together and line the bottoms of ships. It's been used as a medicine in the past. The material is most commonly used in road paving nowadays. 

Bitumen or a mixture of bitumen and aggregates, such as concrete, make up the majority of roads. Engineers repairing asphalt roads will reuse the material on other road projects, which is a key advantage in addition to its adhesive and waterproofing qualities. Manufacturers also use bitumen in the production of roofing materials. Depending on the composition of the asphalt mixture, the ambient temperature, and the amount of stress imposed on the material, bitumen can permanently deform under heavy loads. As bitumen oxidises, it causes the asphalt to become brittle and crack.

Natural Bitumen

Natural bitumen is formed from bituminous rocks and is a change that occurs after millions of years of natural mineral precipitation, pressure, and geological changes such as mining. After breaking down the fine granular powder into a light brown powder with an asphalt content of around 80% to 85%, the rest is made up of limestone minerals. As a modifier, natural bitumen is preferable. 

The tendency of asphalt pavement to rut is increased by providing a high softening point, which increases the high-temperature durability of the pavement. The presence of nitrogen in the form of functional groups can increase the viscosity of bitumen, improve oxidation resistance, improve adhesion and resistance to make the aggregate cut off, and improve the asphalt pavement's ability to resist water damage. 

When fused with the base asphalt at high temperatures and small molecular weights, it produces a "semi-polymerization" effect. It has a good anti-microbial erosion on the surface protective film, shaped naturally tight light amount, more robust surface to increase the speed of ageing and extend the road's service life. Natural bitumen is wax-free, and excessive wax will degrade asphalt quality. The development of natural bitumen is simple and straightforward.

Bitumen Production

Bitumen can be created by extracting lighter fractions from crude oil during the refining process, in addition to being contained naturally in seeps and the oil sands. Liquid petroleum gas, coal, and diesel are among the fractions that are excluded. Bitumen production will begin after crude oil has been extracted from the field. 

The crude oil is pumped from storage tanks and passed through a device that raises the temperature to 200°C. The oil is then transferred to a furnace and heated to about 300°C, where it is partially vaporised and poured into a distillation column. Separation of the crude oil's various components takes place here. Lighter components rise to the top of the pole, while heavier components, such as bitumen, fall to the bottom. Fractional distillation is the name for this process. 

Finally, a vacuum distillation column is used to extract the bitumen from the waste. Straight run bitumen is the name for this kind of bitumen. The amount of volatile material left in the distilled bitumen determines the grade of the bitumen, with more volatiles resulting in a less pure, more liquid product.

Bitumen Ore & Extraction

Let's take a look at how bitumen is extracted. The Slurry Preparation Plant (SPP) produces oil sands slurry that contains around 50-55 percent sand and less than 10% bitumen. The aim of Extraction is to recover the bitumen while discarding the heavy solids. This is accomplished using a basic water-based gravity separation method that takes place in a single and wide cone-bottomed vessel for the most part. Bitumen binds to free air bubbles and rises to the top of the vessel, creating a frothy intermediate substance. The thick sand sinks to the bottom of the reservoir and is pumped to the tailings facility. 

The Following are the Objectives of Extraction:

  • Maximize bitumen recovery from the slurry of mined oil sands.

  • Produce a high-quality bitumen froth commodity

  • Send as few solids as possible to the tailings plant as possible.

Bitumen Uses

The construction industry uses the most processed bitumen. It is mainly used in the paving and roofing industries. Bitumen is used as a binder in asphalt for highways, runways, parking lots, and footpaths, accounting for 85 percent of all bitumen generated. Gravel and crushed rock are combined with dense bitumen to keep it together before being added to roads. Because of its waterproofing properties, bitumen is used in the roofing industry for 10% of all bitumen used worldwide. In different construction materials such as carpet tile backing and paint, 5% of bitumen is used for sealing and insulating purposes. Bitumen has a number of secondary applications in addition to these primary ones. Soundproofing, explosives, mildew safety, a briquette binder, a mirror backing, shoe soles, fence post coating, and soil stabilisation are some other examples.

Bitumen Prices

Bitumen is a byproduct of the refining of crude oil to produce liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and gasoline. As a result, bitumen prices are highly affected by the same factors that influence crude oil prices. These factors include crude supply and demand, as well as geopolitical stability in the world's crude-producing regions. The price difference between heavy and light crude is another factor that affects bitumen prices. Since bitumen is developed as a byproduct of the heavy crude distillation process, refiner decisions on how to process heavy versus light crude plays are crucial for bitumen prices.

Bitumen Upgrading

Bitumen upgrading is a chemical treatment of bitumen in an effort to improve its value by providing a synthetic crude oil replacement for high-quality crude oil. In most cases, this entails lowering the viscosity of the bitumen so that it can be shipped. This process allows untreated bitumen to be converted into fuels at existing refineries that would otherwise be unable to handle it.

Bitumen vs Asphalt

We can define bitumen as a liquid binder that binds asphalt together. The word bitumen is commonly used mistakenly with asphalt. A bitumen-sealed road has a layer of bitumen poured on top of an aggregate layer. This is then done again to create a two-coat seal. Asphalt is manufactured in a plant that heats, dries, and blends concrete, bitumen, and sand to make a composite blend. It is then applied as a solid material on-site using a paving machine at a nominated or appropriate thickness, depending on the end usage. Asphalt produces a smoother and more durable asphalt road surface than a bitumen-sealed road.

Cutback Bitumen

Cutback Bitumen in liquid form refers to bitumen that has been dissolved in a solvent. Cutbacks are classified into two categories based on the solvent used: rapid curing and medium curing. They are further defined by a number indicating the Cutback Bitumen's minimum kinematic viscosity (fluidity). Naphtha, diesel, kerosene, and white spirit are common solvents. Bitumen is reduced by adding small quantities of petroleum distillates, such as the solvents mentioned above. This momentarily decreases the viscosity of the bitumen, allowing it to penetrate pavements more effectively. Spraying at temperatures too cold for good sprayed sealing with tidy bitumen would be possible. 

After application, the materials used for cutback bitumen can evaporate, leaving a material that is comparable in hardness to the initial bitumen. The viscosity of cutback bitumen is determined by the amount of solvent used, and the type of solvent used influences the curing time. Cutback Bitumen has a much higher residual Bitumen percent than Bitumen emulsions, usually over 80 percent, compared to 40 percent to 65 percent for Bitumen emulsions. Cutback bitumens are widely used in road construction and maintenance. 


Bituminous materials are one of the most well-known and commonly used building materials. Despite the fact that their components come from limited resources, these materials have long been regarded as sustainable due to their ability to prolong their useful lives by reclaim, reuse, and/or recycling. 

FAQs on Bitumen

1. What is Bitumen Definition?

Ans: In simple terms, Bitumen meaning is a low-grade crude oil that is made up of complex, heavy hydrocarbons in basic terms. Bitumen is a dense, viscous substance that must be drained from the earth in an oil reservoir. To upgrade it to a better product, a lot of heat and effort must be used when extracting it.

2. What are the Properties of Bitumen?

Ans: The properties of Bitumen are: 

  • It is dark brown or black in colour.

  • At normal temperatures, it is usually solid, but when heated, it becomes liquid.

  • Carbon (87%), oxygen (2%), and hydrogen (11% ) are the main components.

  • At 30°C to 100°C, it becomes fuzzy.

  • It has a high acid tolerance and is not water-soluble.

  • It is vulnerable to oxidation, which creates blisters and cracks.

3. What are the Applications of Bitumen?

Ans: Bitumen is commonly used in asphalt road building and bituminous membrane products. Bitumen is widely used in the construction of bridges, highways, and rail networks. Bitumen has outstanding water-proofing properties and is commonly used in the manufacture of roofing materials, as well as a variety of other household and industrial applications, such as emulsion paints and sound-proofing. For the construction of railway lines, bitumen and bitumen emulsions are used, and by using specific forms of bitumen, such as Polymer Modified Bitumen, vibration and noise levels are minimised due to a dampening effect.