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Introduction to Bitumen

TotalEnergies is well established in all areas of the bitumen market, with a large customer base in the industrial and road emulsion markets and we offer all the strengths that are associated with a European market leader.

TotalEnergies can offer a comprehensive range of bitumen and bitumen emulsions suitable to meet the current demands of a broad customer base. Our products range from standard penetration grade bitumen through to the full range of oxidized bitumen and polymer modified bitumen.


Bitumen is the oldest known engineering material and has been used from the earliest times as an adhesive, sealant and waterproofing agent. As long ago as 6000BC the thriving ship building industry in Sumeria used naturally occurring bitumen which was found to be seeping onto the surface.

In the Indus Valley, in Pakistan, there is a particular well-preserved water tank which dates back to around 3000BC. The stone blocks in the tank are bonded with natural bitumen and there is a vertical bituminous core in the centre of the wall. The same principle is used today in modern dam design.

Bitumen’s versatility as a construction material is unparalleled. Having been used as an adhesive, sealant and waterproofing agent for over 8000 years, its uses now include: the construction and maintenance of roads, airfields and all areas where asphalt is used; roofing; damp proofing; dam reservoir and pool linings; sound proofing; pipe coatings; paints, and many other uses.

However, the widespread availability of bitumen only became fact in the 19th century, when the product was first refined from crude petroleum oils.


Bitumen is a dark brown to black viscous liquid or solid, consisting essentially of hydrocarbon material. At ambient temperatures, bitumen has a solid or semi-solid consistency and softens gradually when heated.

The bitumen used in South Africa is obtained as an end product of the petroleum crude oil refining process. As a binder, bitumen is especially valuable to the engineer because it is a strong, readily adhesive, highly waterproof and durable material. It also provides some flexibility to mixtures of mineral aggregates (stones) with which it is usually combined in road airfield pavement structures. It is highly resistant to the action of aggressive chemicals.

Although solid or semi-solid at normal temperatures, bitumen may be readily liquefied by: 

  • Applying heat;
  • By dissolving it in petroleum solvents (cutters); and
  • Emulsifying it in water

Bitumen is also used in many applications not related to traditional construction and transport industry. However, approximately 90% of the bitumen refined from petroleum is used as a road or airfield paving material. Nearly all of the surfaced roads in South Africa have bituminous surfacing.

The properties of bitumen – both chemical and physical – are dependent on the crude source from which it is derived. Refineries generally use consistent sources of crude which result in consistent bitumen properties and quality.

To find out more about TotalEnergies product and services, e-mail our TotalEnergies Customer Care on [email protected] or phone 0860 111 111.