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Bitumen
-Bitumen education:

There is bitumen everywhere. Chances are, you got to the


computer where you are reading this by walking over some
bitumen. But where did it come from? How is it made? Read
on to find out.

Bitumen is a lot older than you think. Although now associated


with roads and produced in large, complex, modern refineries
belonging to enormous petrochemical companies (such as Shell),
natural bitumen was found long before this, among the desert dunes of Arabia.

Etymology
The Romans called it gwitu-men (pertaining to pitch) or pixtu-men (bubbling pitch), converted,
after the barbarian invasions to bitumen. The word passed into French, and then, after the
Norman conquest of England in 1066, into English, where it was used interchangeably with
tar for over a thousand years (though tar derives from coal, and bitumen from petroleum).

Early Uses
The earliest recorded use of something like bitumen was by the Sumerians, who ruled from
the ancient city of Ur on the Euphrates river (near present-day Kuwait). There is evidence,
too, that Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar used it for waterproofing and even as grouting for
stone roads.

The use of bitumen spread further West, and the Bible records a bituminous substance (tar,
asphalt or bitumen, depending on the translation) was used in building the Tower of Babel.

In 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh discovered a thick viscous lake in the jungles of Trinidad. This was
to be the largest natural deposit of bitumen ever found and was used extensively until the mid
1970s.
In the late nineteenth century, however, bitumen began to be used for the major industrial
uses common today, and with those began synthetic production. Shell began major bitumen
production in the UK in 1920, after opening the Shell Haven refinery.

Today, Shell produces bitumen all over the world, and is at the forefront of research into new
applications for this substance people have used since the dawn of civilization.

Rasselsteiner - OMT GmbH.


Gonzagagasse 13, 1010 Vienna, Austria,
Telephone: +43 1 890 40 19, FAX: +43 1 890 40 19 11, E-mail:office@rasselsteiner.com
 

-Bitumen in General

The building material bitumen is a high-tech product whose quality is controlled in


continuously advancing test procedures. Bitumen is mostly used in roadworks - 90% of the

bitumen used in Austria (500,000 t annually). The remaining 10% are converted into industrial
bitumen (oxidation bitumen).

Example: bitumen consumption for 1 km of the S1


The demand depends on the width of the carriageway, the thickness of the layers and the
type of asphalt. The S1 is an express way and corresponds to a moderately developed
motorway. Its total width is 30 m. The total bitumen required for 1 km of the S1 amounts to
524.6 t. Of the 524.6 t of material, 292.6 t are street construction bitumen and 232 t are
polymer modified bitumen.

Bitumen is a mixture of high and non-boiling crude oil components and is yielded via the
distillation of crude oil. It is not chemically changed during this. Not all crude oils are suitable
for bitumen production: what is decisive is a sufficient amount of residue from the vacuum
distillation with high-boiling components above 500°C.

Bitumen contains, aside from pure hydrocarbon, non-metallic elements in organically bonded
form (oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur), traces of phosphorus and halogens as well as traces of metals
(e.g. nickel, iron and vanadium). The distribution of hydrocarbons - alcanes, naphthenes,
aromatic compounds, resins, asphaltenes - in bitumen varies depending on the origin of the
crude oil.

History of Bitumen
Long before our time, bitumen was known in its natural form as natural asphalt. Natural
asphalt is a relatively hard bitumen that is found in natural deposits; it is solid at 25°C and
liquid at 175°C.

A few examples demonstrate its cultural and historical significance:


In Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq and Turkey) bitumen was used to seal houses and baskets
6,000 years ago - that's around 1,000 years before Oetzi the Iceman lived.
In the ziggurats in Mesopotamia between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C., bitumen was used as a
binding agent 10% of the time. For an average-sized temple (surface area: 60 x 45 m, height:
90m), the Sumerians, Arcadians or Babylonians used around 50,000 m3 of bitumen,
corresponding to a month's worth of production of the Schwechat refinery.
The word mummy, which derives from the Phoenician "mumia", means bitumen. Bitumen was
only used rarely to embalm the dead in ancient Egypt; for the most part, plant oil was used.

The Phoenician word "mumia" does mean bitumen, but it was actually plant oils were mostly
used to embalm the dead in ancient Egypt. (Source: Corbis)

Rasselsteiner - OMT GmbH.


Gonzagagasse 13, 1010 Vienna, Austria,
Telephone: +43 1 890 40 19, FAX: +43 1 890 40 19 11, E-mail:office@rasselsteiner.com
 

In a royal gravesite in Ur, the Sumerian capital (in present-day Iraq) around 2600 B.C., a
board game was found in which bitumen was used as a bonding agent for the inlays and the
black coloring.

In early antiquity, the main deposits of naturally occurring petroleum and/or bitumen were by
the Black Sea. The export of these products brought a certain level of wealth to the people
living in the area.

Bitumen & Road Construction


In the road construction industry, bitumen with varying consistency is used. Depending on the
requirements at hand, harder bitumen can provide increased sturdiness, while softer bitumen
can provide higher flexibility. Harder bitumen can be processed at higher temperatures, but is
more sensitive to environmental influences. Softer bitumen provides better resistance against
environmental influences, but is also less sturdy when exposed to greater stress. The
situation in Austria's alpine regions, where street paving is exposed to extreme fluctuations in
temperature, places great demands on the quality of the bitumen.

Conventional distillation bitumen was mainly used as a binding agent in road construction.
The residue after the distillation contains enough high-molecular asphaltenes.

Ideal crude oils for exclusive bitumen production come from Central America, for example.
They contain up to 60% bitumen and are viscous. Austria imports bitumen crude oils from
Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Russia.

Bitumen & Polymers


Polymer-modified bitumen is bitumen to which certain plastics and polymers
(macromolecules: chemical combinations of a multitude of smaller molecules) have been
added. This special kind of bitumen is used for road construction in areas where heavy traffic
and great stress on the paving is anticipated (e.g. motorway). Polymer-modified bitumen is
more resistant to deformation and makes asphalt covers extremely durable.

Bitumen is yielded during the distillation of crude oil. It is used mainly in road construction.

The modification with plastics influences the properties of conventional bitumen. To improve
its elastic behavior, the softening point (around 70°C) is raised, the plasticity span increased
and the elasticity thus improved (less deformation).

The following polymers are added to bitumen:

Rasselsteiner - OMT GmbH.


Gonzagagasse 13, 1010 Vienna, Austria,
Telephone: +43 1 890 40 19, FAX: +43 1 890 40 19 11, E-mail:office@rasselsteiner.com
 

¾ Thermoplastics (plastomers) consist of linear polymers with little branching. They


are softened when warmed and hardened when cooled (even repeatedly). This
addition raises the viscosity and stiffness of the bitumen, but not its elasticity.

¾ Elastomers consist of long, sometimes balled-up polymer chains that are linked
with a wide mesh. They are rubbery elastic at low temperatures all the way to
decomposition temperatures, but cannot be re-melted after being processed
once. Their addition increases the viscosity of the bitumen while only marginally
increasing elasticity.

¾ Thermo-elastic plastics turn soft (not liquid) like a thermoplastic at temperatures


above their service temperature and can then be shaped. They combine
properties of rubber and thermoplastics.

Oxidation Bitumen
Oxidation bitumen is used in industrial applications, e.g. to manufacture roof and sealing
sheets, or for coatings and joint sealing compounds.

Oxidation bitumen is produced by having oxygen (controlled injection) act on bitumen at


230°C to 270°C. By attachment of oxygen, the proportion of resins and asphaltenes rises,
which leads to higher viscosity and a clear hardening of the binding agent.
OMV uses a specially developed procedure (Biturox procedure) for the oxidation technology
and uses high-performance air injection reactors that inject and distribute air and water across
large surfaces.

Test Procedures
The properties of bitumen that are used in Austria and Europe are primarily evaluated by
means of empirical test procedures. Among other things, these describe their elasticity and
viscosity, their adhesion behavior, their solubility, their hardening stability, their flash point,
their paraffin content and their shelf life.

Recently, examinations of bitumen have focused on the rheological properties of bitumen.


Rheology is the science of flowing substances and describes, using physical characteristics,
the deformation of a substance when subjected to loading by external forces. This can be
described by physical parameters such as shear modulus, phase difference or tensile
stiffness. Bitumen is a visco-elastic substance, i.e. its behavior can be described using an
elastic and a viscous component. This behavior can be presented with the aid of the Maxwell
model.

The rheometer measures the properties of bitumen especially in the upper temperature rang

Rasselsteiner - OMT GmbH.


Gonzagagasse 13, 1010 Vienna, Austria,
Telephone: +43 1 890 40 19, FAX: +43 1 890 40 19 11, E-mail:office@rasselsteiner.com
 

 
-Solutions for Bitumenpacking
Today there is only limited solutions for Bitumen packing in the market. The only widespread
transport tool established are so far bitumen drums , containing many disadvantages. Gasoili
engineering has new solutions to offer for Bitumen packing, containing various logistical and
financial advantages compared to drums.

Please contact us for further information.

Rasselsteiner - OMT GmbH.


Gonzagagasse 13, 1010 Vienna, Austria,
Telephone: +43 1 890 40 19, FAX: +43 1 890 40 19 11, E-mail:office@rasselsteiner.com