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Home > Blog > An introduction to bitumen

An introduction to bitumen

You might have seen bitumen mentioned elsewhere on the Wake Marine website. You might, for example, have seen it mentioned on the home page as something that we can help charterers and ship owners to get from one place to another as part of liquid transport services. Alternatively, you might have noticed the news story on our blog about how demand for bitumen transport services made possible and economical by shipping companies like Wake Marine had been expected to continue rising in 2013. However, if you are unsure what bitumen even is, you could certainly benefit hugely from reading much more of this blog post.

In a nutshell, what is bitumen?

Though you might not be familiar with the term 'bitumen', you are likely to be much more familiar with the alternative term often used to describe it, 'asphalt'. Having read this, you are likely to now have a much greater idea of what bitumen is, but you could still learn a lot more about what bitumen is by reading more of this blog post. Bitumen is, basically, a form of petroleum. It is sticky, black and highly viscous and comes in liquid or semi-solid form. Bitumen is primarily used for constructing roads; here, it is used as a glue or binder and mixed with aggregate particles to form asphalt concrete. It is also commonly used to make bituminous waterproofing products, including roofing felt.

So, what is asphalt? How does it differ from bitumen?

In a sense, we have already answered the first question; however, the frequent use of the terms 'asphalt' and 'bitumen' can sometimes be confusing if you are unaware of exactly what each are being used to refer to. The terms are often used interchangeably to refer to both natural and manufactured forms of the same substance. However, in American English, 'asphalt' is often used to refer to the residue that has been carefully refined from distillation of selected crude oils, while, where the terms 'asphalt' and 'bitumen' are both considered acceptable, the latter is often preferred in geological terminology.

Another term that is sometimes used in place of 'asphalt' or 'bitumen' is 'tar'. More archaic words that mean the same thing include 'asphaltum', which was commonly used until the 20th century, and 'pitch'. Naturally occurring asphalt or bitumen is sometimes dubbed 'crude bitumen'. Bitumen is just one of many substances that we can help to transport via bulk liquid shipping.