Bitumen production equipment

 Bitumen is an oil based non-crystalline solid or viscous substance having adhesive properties derived from petroleum either by natural or refinery processes, and substantially soluble in carbon disulphide. It is a mixture of organic liquids that are highly viscous, black, sticky, entirely soluble in carbon disulfide, and composed primarily of highly condensed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Bitumen is obtained by removing the lighter fractions (such as liquid petroleum gas, petrol and diesel) by distillation of blends of heavy crude oil during the refining process containing at least one bitumen crude. As such it is correctly known as refined bitumen.  In North America, bitumen is commonly known as “asphalt cement” or “asphalt”. While elsewhere “asphalt” is the term used for a mixture of small stones, sand, filler and bitumen, which is used as a road paving material. At ambient temperatures bitumen is a stable, semi-solid substance.Crude bitumen is a sticky, tar-like form of petroleum which is so thick and heavy that it must be heated or diluted before it will flow. At room temperature, it has a consistency much like cold molasses. Refined bitumen is the residual (bottom) fraction obtained by fractional distillation of crude oil. It is the heaviest fraction and the one with the highest boiling point, boiling at 525 °C (977 °F). Contrary to a common but mistaken idea, bitumen is not an oil residue that the petroleum industry wants to get rid of at little cost. In reality, to produce bitumen of good quality with constant properties, refiner meticulously select one or more bitumen crude, following very strict internal approval procedures.

There are 1300 types of crude oil classified worldwide, and among them only 9 - 10 % are suitable for producing bitumen grades that can meet the specifications for various industrial sectors. These types of bitumens are known as bitumen crude. Bitumen is primarily used for paving roads in  the construction and maintenance of roads, airfields and all areas where asphalt is used; roofing; damp proofing; dam, reservoir and pool linings; soundproofing, pipe coatings, paints. Its other uses are for bituminous waterproofing products, including the use of bitumen as an adhesive, sealant and waterproofing agent in the production of roofing felt and for sealing flat roofs. Asphaltic bitumen is valued for a variety of properties. It is water proof, ductile, adhesive, chemically inert and resistant to atmospheric exposure and the effects of dilute acids and alkalis.

Production of Bitumen

Refined Bitumen is produced from selected crude oils through a process of Fractional Distillation. The crude oil is heated to temperatures of between 300 and 350 degrees Celsius and fed into a distillation column allowing the lightest fractions of the crude to separate, through vaporization, from the heavier fractions, which remain liquid. The production is a specialist activity and is not carried out in all oil refineries. Bitumen requires crude oils with specific characteristics and only some crude oils are suitable. There are 94 oil refineries in Europe (EU15) of which 63 produce bitumen.

Bitumen is an engineering material and is produced to meet a variety of end-use specifications based upon physical properties. Bitumen may be customised for special road applications and hundreds of grades have also been developed for the non-road industrial segment, including roofing and sound-proofing.

Applications of Bitumen

Crude bitumen is the prime feed stock for petroleum production from tar sands currently under development in Alberta, Canada. Canada has most of the world's supply of natural bitumen, covering 140,000 square kilometres (an area larger than England), giving it the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. The extractable amount of crude bitumen in Alberta is estimated to be around 310-315 billion barrels which at a rate of 4.4 million barrels per day for the next over 200years. Due to high cost in oil production, utilizing bitumen and upgrading it into synthetic has become highly cost-effective.

The vast majority of refined bitumen is used in construction industry. Bitumen’s primary use is as a constituent of products used in paving and roofing applications. Approximately 85 per cent of all the bitumen produced worldwide is used as the binder in asphalt for roads. It is also used in other paved areas such as airport runways, car parks and footways. The production of asphalt involves mixing sand, gravel and crushed rock with bitumen which acts as the binding agent. Other materials, such as polymers, may be added to the bitumen to alter its properties according to the application for which the asphalt is ultimately intended. A further 10 per cent of global bitumen production is used in roofing applications, where its waterproofing qualities are invaluable. The remaining five per cent of bitumen is used mainly for sealing and insulating purposes in a variety of building materials, such as pipe coatings, carpet tile backing and paint.