Bitumen Oil is low-grade crude oil that contains complex, heavy hydrocarbons. A thick, viscous fluid, bitumen must be extracted from a reservoir of oil. A great deal of heat and effort must be put into extracting it and upgrading it to a better product. It is not easy to extract bitumen from underground, but it can bubble to the surface of the Earth naturally through petroleum seeps. Fossil fuels and petroleum products leak from seeps instead of being trapped deep below the surface of the Earth. A pool of bitumen, asphalt, and tar forms in these seeps. Also, bitumen is one of the main fossil fuel components of oil sands. Combining bitumen with asphaltines creates a solid that can be used to pave roads.
The construction industry uses the most refined bitumen. It is mainly used for paving and roofing purposes. The majority of bitumen is used in asphalt as a binder for streets, runways, parking lots, and footpaths. Gravel and crushed rock are blended with thick bitumen, keeping the mixture together and allowing it to be applied to roadways. It is estimated that 10% of the bitumen used worldwide is used in the roofing industry as its waterproofing properties enable roofs to perform well. As much as 5% of bitumen is used as a sealant and an insulator in various construction materials such as carpet tile backing and paint.
Aside from these main uses, bitumen also has a number of minor uses, such as:
- Mildew protection
- Binder in briquettes
- Backing to mirrors
- Shoe soles
- Fence post coating
- Soil stabilization