Is Bitumen Natural?

Today, bitumen is used in almost every city and town on Earth. Its smooth finish and water repellent nature makes it the ideal material from which to build roads, playgrounds, and paving.

In certain regions, Bitumen is also used as a waterproof roofing material, just as it was thousands of years ago. Because of Bitumen’s ubiquitous nature in cities, it’s easy to think of it purely as an artificial material, something made in a laboratory. But that’s not the case.

Where Does Bitumen Come From?

As we’ve written before, Bitumen can be sourced in two ways:

  • Distilled from crude oil
  • In its purest form. 

However, it’s important to remember that, while one is sourced from the earth, to describe one as more natural than the other would be untrue. 

In its Purest Form

As we’ve written before, bitumen is a hydrocarbon very similar to common petroleum oil. Indeed, they are often found together — with bitumen considered to be an impure form of petroleum.

Like petroleum, bitumen is made up of the fossilized remains of long-dead animals and plants which have been subjected to intense pressure. Unlike petroleum, however, bitumen solidifies at much lower temperatures — making it ideal material for use in landscaping projects, such as decorative paving and coloured playgrounds. 

Another similarity between petroleum and bitumen is its natural origin. Like petroleum, bitumen is often found at the bottom of very old sources of water — rivers, lakes, and oceans — which satisfy the environmental requirements for bitumen creation.

These environmental circumstances can be found all over the world — from Trinidad to Switzerland. The largest deposit in the world is found in the McMurry Mountains in Alberta, Canada. This deposit is believed to be at least 110 million years old and could be as large as 144,000 kilometers across.

Artificial Bitumen

Developed in 1870 by Belgian-American academic Edward de Smedt, artificial bitumen is made from distilled crude oil. This distilled bitumen is normally far purer than the naturally sourced bitumen; indeed, it is now common for naturally sourced bitumen to go through the distillation process. 

Unlike naturally sourced bitumen, which can only be found in a few places as a by-product of the process which creates petroleum, artificially distilled bitumen can be made anywhere where transport infrastructure allows the shipping of crude oil.

As a result of this, along with the ubiquitous nature of crude oil, artificially created bitumen has become much more common than its natural counterpart. Indeed, it’s possible to argue that the invention of the distillation process allowed bitumen to overtake tarmac as the preferred construction material for coloured playgrounds, decorative paving, and road surfaces. 

Because of these qualities, as well as the expected shortage of fossil fuels, artificial bitumen is now the most common form of bitumen.

Is Bitumen Natural?

Ultimately, both natural and artificial bitumen are forms of fossil fuel. As such, both can be considered ‘natural’ materials, in the strictest sense of the word.

For More Information

At Bituchem, we are always looking for ways to improve and innovate. For more information on our products, or all other enquiries, contact Bituchem today. Our team will be happy to answer any questions.