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The uses of bitumen


The uses of bitumen

The vast majority of bitumen is used by the construction industry, as a con- stituent of products used in paving and roofing. Excellent waterproofing characteristics and thermoplastic behaviour make it ideal for a wide range  of applications. At el evated temperatures (typically between 100  and  2008C) it acts like a viscous liquid, and can be mixed with other components and manipulated and formed as required. Once cooled, it is an inert solid that is durable and hydrophobic (repels  water).

Various terms are used to describe conventional bitumen such as straight run, paving grade and penetration grade (or ‘pen grade’). When  people  use these terms they normally mean grades of bitumen that can be produced   at a conventional refinery in a relatively simple way.

The vast majority of bitumen used in asphalt for road construction is conven- tional bitumen; that is why it is often known as paving grade. The term ‘pen grade’ is short for penetration grade, and reflects the fact that this type of product is often classified (in Europe and parts of Asia) using the penetration test. The term straight run refers to the fact that this type of bitumen is often produced direct from the vacuum distillation process, without any further modification.

Current estimates put the world use of bitumen at approximately 102 million tonnes  per  year (Eurobitume and  the  Asphalt Institute,  2011),  and  about

85% of all the bitumen produced is used in asphalt for the construction of roads and other paved areas. Typically, asphalt will contain approximately 5% by mass of bitumen, with the remaining 95% consisting of a mixture of mineral aggregates and much finer materials such as limestone filler

A note on terminology is worth making at this point – ‘asphalt’ is a generic term used to describe a range of road surfacing products containing primarily bitumen and mineral aggregates. A few alternative terms exist including hot mix asphalt (HMA) and asphalt concrete (AC). In this book the term ‘asphalt’ will be used throughout. Asphalt is often referred to incorrectly in the media and in common parlance as tarmac (short for tarmacadam). Tarmacadam is a road surfacing product using coal tar as a binder and has not been used in road construction for over 30   years.

A further 10% of global bitumen production is used in roofing applications, and the remaining 5% is used mainly for sealing and insulating purposes in a variety of building materials, such as pipe coatings, carpet backing, joint sealants and paint.

The extremely wide range of uses for bitumen is demonstrated by the number of registered uses in Europe under the requirements of the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulations, which require all chemical substances and associated uses to be registered. Table  1.2  provides  an  overview  (Eurobitume, 2013).

Bitumen is available in a variety of grades. Specifications are used across the world to define these grades to meet the needs of the applications, climate, loading conditions and end use. They are usually based on a series of standard test methods that define the properties of each grade such as hardness, viscosity, solubility and durability.

Bitumens are also used to manufacture mixtures or preparations. In these products, bitumen is often the principal component, but they can contain significant proportions of other materials to meet end use requirements. These mixtures are chemically classified as bitumen  preparations.

The most commonly used are as follows (Eurobitume and the Asphalt Institute, 2011):

Cut-back bitumen and fluxed bitumen. Cut-back and fluxed bitumen products are preparations in which the viscosity of the bitumen has been reduced by the addition of a solvent, normally derived from petroleum. Typically the solvents used are white spirit, kerosene and





Fence post coating


Mulching paper

Paved barn floors, barnyards, feed platforms

Protecting tanks, vats

Protection for concrete structures

Tree paints (protective)

Buildings and industrial paving

Water and moisture barriers (above and below ground)

Floor compositions, tiles, coverings

Insulating fabrics, papers

Step treads

Building papers

Caulking compounds

Cement waterproofing compounds

Glass wool compositions

Insulating fabrics, felts, papers

Joint filler compounds

Laminated roofing shingles

Liquid roof coatings

Plastic cements


Acoustical blocks, compositions, felts


Damp-proofing coatings, compositions

Insulating board, fabrics, felts, paper

Masonry coatings




Stucco base


Air-drying paints, varnishes

Artificial timber

Ebonised timber

Insulating paints

Plumbing, pipes

Treated awnings

Canal linings, sealants

Hydraulics and erosion control

Catchment areas, basins

Dam groutings

Dam linings, protection

Dyke protection

Ditch linings

Drainage gutters, structures

Embankment protection



Levee protection

Mattresses for levee and bank protection

Membrane linings, waterproofing


Type Application

Reservoir linings


Sand dune stabilisation

Sewage lagoons, oxidation ponds

Swimming pools

Waste ponds

Water barriers

Backed felts

Industrial Conduit

Conduit insulation, lamination

Insulating boards

Paint compositions


Pipe wrapping

Insulating felts

Panel boards


Battery boxes, carbons

Electrical insulating compounds, papers, tapes, wire coatings

Junction box compound

Moulded conduits

Black grease

Buffing compounds

Cable splicing compound


Etching compositions



Lap cement



Printing inks

Well drilling fluid

Armoured bituminised fabrics

Burlap impregnation

Mildew prevention

Sawdust, cork, asphalt composition

Acid-proof enamels, mastics, varnishes

Acid-resistant coatings

Air-drying paints, varnishes

Anti-corrosive and anti-fouling paints

Anti-oxidants and solvents

Base for solvent compositions

Baking and heat-resistant enamels

Boat deck sealing compound

Lacquers, japans

Marine enamels

Blasting fuses

Briquette binders

Burial vaults

Casting moulds

Clay articles

Clay pigeons

Expansion joints


Foundry cores

Friction tape


Mirror backing

Rubber, moulded compositions

Shoe fillers, soles

Paving (see also agriculture, hydraulics,

railways, recreation)

Airport runways, taxiways, aprons

Asphalt blocks

Brick fillers

Bridge deck, surfacing

Crack fillers

Floors for buildings, warehouses, garages

Highways, roads, streets, shoulders

Kerbs, gutters, drainage ditches

Parking lots, driveways

Portland cement concrete underseal

Roof-deck parking

Pavements, footpaths

Soil stabilisation


Ballast treatment

Dust laying

Paved ballast, sub-ballast

Paved crossings, freight yards, station platforms


Dance pavilions

Drive-in movies

Gymnasiums, sport arenas

Playgrounds, school yards

Race tracks

Running tracks

Skating rinks

Swimming and wading pools

Tennis courts, handball courts

Synthetic playing fields and running track surfaces


Bitumen emulsions. Bitumen emulsions are products in which droplets of bitumen or bitumen preparation are dispersed in an aqueous medium. An emulsifier is used to stabilise the mixture. Bitumen emulsions permit the handling, transport and application of bitumen at lower temperatures, and are used mainly in road surfacing applications.