Bitumen also known as Asphalt, a sticky, black, and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. It may be found in natural deposits or may be a refined product, and is classed as a pitch.

The primary use (70%) of asphalt is in road construction, where it is used as the glue or binder mixed with aggregate particles to create asphalt concrete. Its other main uses are for bituminous waterproofing products, including production of roofing felt and for sealing flat roofs.



The vast majority of refined asphalt is used in construction: primarily as a constituent of products used in paving and roofing applications. According to the requirements of the end use, asphalt is produced to specification. This is achieved either by refining or blending. It is estimated that the current world use of asphalt is approximately 102 million tonnes per year. Approximately 85% of all the asphalt produced is used as the binder in asphalt concrete for roads. It is also used in other paved areas such as airport runways, car parks and footways. Typically, the production of asphalt concrete involves mixing fine and coarse aggregates such as sand, gravel and crushed rock with asphalt, which acts as the binding agent. Other materials, such as recycled polymers (e.g., rubber tyres), may be added to the asphalt to modify its properties according to the application for which the asphalt is ultimately intended.


The largest use of asphalt is for making asphalt concrete for road surfaces; this accounts for approximately 85% of the asphalt consumed in the United States. There are about 4,000 asphalt concrete mixing plants in the US, and a similar number in Europe.

Asphalt concrete pavement mixes are typically composed of 5% asphalt cement and 95% aggregates (stone, sand, and gravel). Due to its highly viscous nature, asphalt cement must be heated so it can be mixed with the aggregates at the asphalt mixing facility. The temperature required varies depending upon characteristics of the asphalt and the aggregates, but warm-mix asphalt technologies allow producers to reduce the temperature required.


Mastic asphalt is a type of asphalt that differs from dense graded asphalt (asphalt concrete) in that it has higher asphalt (binder) content, usually around 7–10% of the whole aggregate mix, as opposed to rolled asphalt concrete, which has only around 5% asphalt. This thermoplastic substance is widely used in the building industry for waterproofing flat roofs and tanking underground. Mastic asphalt is heated to a temperature of 210 °C (410 °F) and is spread in layers to form an impervious barrier about 20 millimeters (0.8 inches) thick.


A number of technologies allow asphalt to be mixed at much lower temperatures. These involve mixing with petroleum solvents to form “cutbacks” with reduced melting point or mixing with water to turn the asphalt into an emulsion. Asphalt emulsions contain up to 70% asphalt and typically less than 1.5% chemical additives. There are two main types of emulsions with different affinity for aggregates, cationic and anionic. Asphalt emulsions are used in a wide variety of applications. Chip seal involves spraying the road surface with asphalt emulsion followed by a layer of crushed rock, gravel or crushed slag. Slurry seal involves the creation of a mixture of asphalt emulsion and fine crushed aggregate that is spread on the surface of a road. Cold-mixed asphalt can also be made from asphalt emulsion to create pavements similar to hot-mixed asphalt, several inches in depth, and asphalt emulsions are also blended into recycled hot-mix asphalt to create low-cost pavements.


Synthetic crude oil, also known as Syncrude, is the output from a bitumen upgrader facility used in connection with oil sand production in Canada. Bituminous sands are mined using enormous (100 ton capacity) power shovels and loaded into even larger (400 ton capacity) dump trucks for movement to an upgrading facility. The process used to extract the bitumen from the sand is a hot water process originally developed by Dr. Karl Clark of the University of Alberta during the 1920s. After extraction from the sand, the bitumen is fed into a bitumen upgrader which converts it into a light crude oilequivalent. This synthetic substance is fluid enough to be transferred through conventional oil pipelines and can be fed into conventional oil refineries without any further treatment. By 2015 Canadian bitumen upgraders were producing over 1 million barrels (160×103 m3) per day of synthetic crude oil, of which 75% was exported to oil refineries in the United States.

In Alberta, five bitumen upgraders produce synthetic crude oil and a variety of other products: The Suncor Energy upgrader near Fort McMurray, Alberta produces synthetic crude oil plus diesel fuel; the Syncrude Canada, Canadian Natural Resources, and Nexen upgraders near Fort McMurray produce synthetic crude oil; and the Shell Scotford Upgrader near Edmonton produces synthetic crude oil plus an intermediate feedstock for the nearby Shell Oil Refinery. A sixth upgrader, under construction in 2015 near Redwater, Alberta, will upgrade half of its crude bitumen directly to diesel fuel, with the remainder of the output being sold as feedstock to nearby oil refineries and petrochemical plants.

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