Bitumen is an important component of our world. The substance is responsible for waterproofing, sealing, and insulating different materials in a myriad of industries. Apart from that, bitumen is used widely in road construction as a strong binder. Bitumen not only lowers costs of road construction, but it also reduces the need for maintenance and prolongs the service life of roads across the world.
Bitumen has various types and grades. Based on its resource (natural or refined), bitumen comes with different features and properties. This results in the classification of bitumen into various grades with different applications.
What is bitumen and how is it produced?
Bitumen is a petroleum based material, used for binding stones and sands and producing asphalt for road construction. The majority of bitumen across the world is produced by the distillation of crude oil. In the normal process of an oil refinery, crude oil is heated in an atmospheric distillation column. This will lead to the separation of various parts of crude oil according to their molecular weight. The heaviest part of the oil that remains at the bottom of the distillation column, is called Vacuum Bottom and forms the raw material for producing refined bitumen.
What is the difference between bitumen, tar, and asphalt?
Bitumen, asphalt, and tar have many similarities. Therefore, some people use them interchangeably. However, these three materials are completely different from each other. The main difference between bitumen and tar lies in the fact that each material is derived from various sources. Bitumen is distilled from crude oil, but tar is produced from coal or wood. Based on their sources, these two materials have different properties and applications, therefore, we cannot use tar instead of bitumen. Bitumen and asphalt are different materials, too. Bitumen is an adhesive material, perfect for binding sands and stones and producing asphalt for road construction. Bitumen alone is not suitable for paving roads.
Various types of bitumen
Bitumen has two main types, natural and refined. The refined type of bitumen is produced by the distillation of crude oil, while the natural type of bitumen is extracted from bituminous sands and rocks that formed in nature within 360 million years. These ancient deposits are now the source of natural bitumen in various countries, including Canada, Venezuela, and Oman. When extracted from the underground reservoirs, natural bitumen is impure and needs to be refined. In addition to that, the extraction of natural bitumen needs technological advancements. That’s why most of the bitumen consumed across the world is refined bitumen, not the natural one.
Various grades of bitumen
Since various kinds of crude oils give various types of bitumen with completely different properties, grading bitumen is vital. For grading bitumen based on their properties, refineries use a number of standard tests to measure the viscosity level, penetration value, performance, and consistency of bitumen. The result of these tests is bitumen penetration grades and viscosity grades. Other grades of bitumen, including cutback bitumen, oxidized bitumen, and bitumen emulsions are classified based on their production process.
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