What Can Bitumen Be Used For?

Bitumen (sometimes referred to as asphalt or tar) is a specialist fuel grade that can be used in applications such as road surfacing, roofing and certain types of paint. It is a unique form of petroleum that we could not live without. Bitumen is only produced in about 65% of refineries around the world and has a yield of only 3-4% of the total crude slate. Here, we discuss the properties of bitumen and share what bitumen can be used for.

What is Bitumen?

Bitumen itself is a black and very sticky liquid. It’s also highly viscous and so full of carbon that it cannot be used for combustion (unlike gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). In fact, bitumen contains so much carbon that unless it is kept headed to a temperature of about 150 degrees Celsius, it solidifies into a rock-hard wax.

As a result, the job of a bitumen tanker driver is extremely hazardous. Bitumen is loaded into road tankers near to boiling point (for maximum viscosity) which means drivers need to wear full, protective head and body-suits for all parts of the body.

What Can Bitumen Be Used For?

  • Road Surfacing

Bitumen becomes a road when mixed with sand, gravel and crushed rock before being laid pancake flat. A phenomenal 90% of the total road network contains bitumen and, in Europe alone, 4 million miles of road are reliant on it! But why is bitumen perfect for road surfacing?

Bitumen can be used for roads because its sticky nature quite literally glues all the construction material together. Plus, bitumen’s waterproofing characteristics are unparalleled, which means that rainwater does not permeate into the road construction and simply runs off. It’s important that road surfaces are resistant to water permeation to reduce the likelihood of cracks, deformations and potholes forming.

As you can imagine, bitumen is also used for other types of surfacing, like pavements, cycle tracks, playgrounds, runways, jetties, bus stops, railway platforms and car parks.

It’s important to note that working with bitumen requires warm and dry weather as laying bitumen in the rain has about as much effect as applying paint to a wet surface. This is why 50% of bitumen is consumed between June and September in Europe.

Thanks to the cold and rainy weather that’s typical of the UK, we tend to have an even shorter window to lay down new roads and road extensions. So, if there’s a lot of road maintenance to do, there’s not a lot of time to do it in.

  • Bitumen Paint

Bitumen paint is used in a host of different places where a protective coating is needed. It can be applied to most materials, including iron, steel, wood and concrete.

Not only is bitumen paint water resistant, but it’s alkaline resistant, too. It is commonly used to coat fire escapes, gutters, pipes, railings, fences, water tanks, boat hulls and more.  

  • Roofing

Almost all modern houses are weather-proofed using bitumen. In fact, approximately 10% of global bitumen production is used for roofing purposes. Before roof tiles go on, a bitumen lining is laid to stop water from seeping in and to make sure everything keeps dry inside.

Using bitumen for roofing purposes is popular because, with the right level of thickness, the bitumen is so long-wearing. Bitumen rooves can last twenty years or more! It’s also extremely unlikely that the bitumen will become damaged by natural elements like UV rays, heat, storms or wind.

Is Bitumen Environmentally-Friendly?

Despite its heavy carbon content, bitumen can justifiably claim to be one of the most environmentally friendly crude oil products. Bitumen is not burned and therefore does not produce any CO2 emissions. It may well be packed full of horrible stuff, but bitumen is only used as a construction material and not for its energy-generating, combustion qualities.

Bitumen can also be recycled, which is great news for the environment. In some countries, recycling rates for bitumen are as high as 70%. Simply reheat the product, allow it to melt and, hey presto, it's ready to be used again.

Is Bitumen a Product of Petroleum?

Yes – bitumen is a product of petroleum. It is produced by refining crude oil.

What is Bitumen Emulsion?

To make bitumen emulsion, you need to mix together fine droplets of bitumen and water. However, as bitumen is a highly viscous product of petroleum, it doesn’t easily transform into fine droplets. This is where an emulsifier comes in.

An emulsifier is a surface active agent and helps to break down the bitumen into fine particles while keeping these particles suspended.

The amount of bitumen you can add to a water-emulsifier mix is typically anywhere between 40% and 70%. How much bitumen you add will depend on how you want to use the emulsified bitumen.

We hope you now have a better understanding of what bitumen can be used for and why it’s popular and practical in the construction sector. To learn more about the different types of petroleum products, such as kerosene, please check out our blog. Or, alternatively contact us at Rix Petroleum for more information.