Bitumen is the preferred geological term for naturally occurring deposits of the solid or semi-solid form of petroleum. However, in the construction industry, you may often hear bitumen either attached to the word asphalt (asphalt bitumen) or where the two terms are used interchangeably. In general terms, bitumen—a viscous, sticky liquid—is what binds the stone, sand, and gravel that make up the pavement for our roads and highways.
Most roads all around the world are paved with this material, so it’s no wonder that 100 million tons or 700 barrels of bitumen are used each year. China leads the world in production at over 21 million metric tons, followed closely by the United States , which produces just under 20 million metric tons.*
In 2017, about 2.8 million barrels of bitumen were produced per day in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, which holds the third-largest oil reserves in the world, after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
Despite the fact that it is a petroleum product, bitumen asphalt is considered one of the most sustainable methods to build roads and highways due to its recyclability. Bitumen asphalt pavements have been successfully recycled back into new asphalt pavements since the 1970s. Today, the National Asphalt Paving Association says that when old pavements are removed, 99 percent of the time it is recycled or reused.
We are currently investigating the development of new modified asphalt bitumens
(HiMA, Highly Modified Asphalt) in order to improve the durability conditions of roads and facilitate its grip for cars and motorcycles. Our research also includes the
importance of facilitating frictionless rolling which helps reduce the efficiency of mobility.
To reduce the amount of road maintenance and resurfacing, we have developed an
asphalt bitumen specifically tailored to be resistant to salt. This includes salt applied to the road during winter storms, or the salt found naturally in the humid air in areas near the coast.
As you can see, while asphalt bitumen may be found just about everywhere, it really is quite remarkable.