Bitumen is a black or dark-colored (solid, semi-solid, viscous), amorphous, cementitious material that can be found in different forms, such us rock asphalt, natural bitumen, tar and bitumen derived from oil, which is referred to as petroleum bitumen.
Currently most of the roads globally are paved with bitumen. Today the world’s demand for bitumen accounts for more than 100 million tons per year, which is approximately 700 million barrels of bitumen, consumed annually.
Bitumen is primarily used for paving roads. Its other uses are for Bituminous Waterproofing Products, including the use of bitumen in the production of roofing felt and for sealing flat roofs.
Naturally occurring 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 kilometers (an area larger than England), giving it the second largest proven oil reserves in the world. The Athabasca oil sands is the largest bitumen deposit in Canada and the only one accessible to surface mining, although recent technological breakthroughs have resulted in deeper deposits becoming producible by in-situ methods. Because of oil price increases since 2003, upgrading bitumen to synthetic crude oil has become highly profitable. As of 2006 Canadian crude bitumen production averaged about 1.1 million barrels (170,000 m3) per day and was projected to rise to 4.4 million barrels (700,000 m3) per day by 2020.The total amount of crude bitumen in Alberta which could be extracted is estimated to be about 310 billion barrels (50×109 m3), which at a rate of 4.4 million barrels per day would last about 200 years.
In the past, bitumen was used to Waterproof Boats, and even as a coating for buildings with some additives. The Greek historian Herodotus said hot bitumen was used as mortar in the walls of Babylon. It is also possible that the city of Carthage was easily burnt due to extensive use of bitumen in construction.
Vessels for the heating of bitumen or bituminous compounds are usually subject to specific conditions in public liability insurance policies, similar to those required for blow torches, welders, and flame-cutting equipment.
Bitumen was also used in early photographic technology. It was most notably used by French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in the first picture ever taken. The bitumen used in his experiments were smeared on pewter plates and then exposed to light, thus making a black and white image.
Thin bitumen plates are sometimes used by computer enthusiasts for silencing computer cases or noisy computer parts such as the hard drive. Bitumen layers are baked onto the outside of high end dishwashers to provide sound insulation.