Bituminous materials or asphalts are extensively used for roadway construction, primarily because of their excellent binding characteristics and water proofing properties and relatively low cost. Bituminous materials consists of bitumen which is a black or dark coloured solid or viscous cementitious substances consists chiefly high molecular weight hydrocarbons derived from distillation of petroleum or natural asphalt, has adhesive properties, and is soluble in carbon disulphide. Tars are residues from the destructive distillation of organic substances such as coal, wood, or petroleum and are temperature sensitive than bitumen. Bitumen will be dissolved in petroleum oils where unlike tar.

Production of Bitumen

bitumen is the residue or by-product when the crude petrolium is refined. A wide variety of refinery processes, such as the straight distillation process, solvent extraction process etc. may be used to produce bitumen of different consistency and other desirable properties. Depending on the sources and characteristics of the crude oils and on the properties of bitumen required, more than one processing method may be employed.

Vacuum steam distillation of petroleum oils

In the vacuum-steam distillation process the crude oil is heated and is introduced into a large cylindrical still. Steam is introduced into the still to aid in the vapourisation of the more volatile constituents of the petroleum and to minimise decomposition of the distillates and residues. The volatile constituents are collected, condensed, and the various fractions stored for further refining, if needed. The residues from this distillation are then fed into a vacuum distillation unit, where residue pressure and steam will further separate out heavier gas oils. The bottom fraction from this unit is the vacuum-steam-refined asphalt cement. The consistency of asphalt cement from this process can be controlled by the amount of heavy gas oil removed. Normally, asphalt produced by this process is softer. As the asphalt cools down to room temperature, it becomes a semi solid viscous material.

Different forms of bitumen

1- Cutback bitumen

Normal practice is to heat bitumen to reduce its viscosity. In some situations preference is given to use liquid binders such as cutback bitumen. In cutback bitumen suitable solvent is used to lower the viscosity of the bitumen. From the environmental point of view also cutback bitumen is preferred. The solvent from the bituminous material will evaporate and the bitumen will bind the aggregate. Cutback bitumen is used for cold weather bituminous road construction and maintenance. The distillates used for preparation of cutback bitumen are naphtha, kerosene, diesel oil, and furnace oil. There are different types of cutback bitumen like rapid curing (RC), medium curing (MC), and slow curing (SC). RC is recommended for surface dressing and patchwork. MC is recommended for premix with less quantity of fine aggregates. SC is used for premix with appreciable quantity of fine aggregates.

2- Bitumen Emulsion

Bitumen emulsion is a liquid product in which bitumen is suspended in a finely divided condition in an aqueous medium and stabilised by suitable material. The bitumen content in the emulsion is around 60% and the remaining is water. When the emulsion is applied on the road it breaks down resulting in release of water and the mix starts to set. The time of setting depends upon the grade of bitumen. The viscosity of bituminous emulsions can be measured as per IS: 8887-1995. Three types of bituminous emulsions are available, which are Rapid setting (RS), Medium setting (MS), and Slow setting (SC). Bitumen emulsions are ideal binders for hill road construction. Where heating of bitumen or aggregates are difficult. Rapid setting emulsions are used for surface dressing work. Medium setting emulsions are preferred for premix jobs and patch repairs work. Slow setting emulsions are preferred in rainy season.

3- Bituminous primers

In bituminous primer the distillate is absorbed by the road surface on which it is spread. The absorption therefore depends on the porosity of the surface. Bitumen primers are useful on the stabilised surfaces and water bound macadam base courses. Bituminous primers are generally prepared on road sites by mixing penetration bitumen with petroleum distillate.

4- Modified Bitumen

Certain additives or blend of additives called as bitumen modifiers can improve properties of Bitumen and bituminous mixes. Bitumen treated with these modifiers is known as modified bitumen. Polymer modified bitumen (PMB)/ crumb rubber modified bitumen (CRMB) should be used only in wearing course depending upon the requirements of extreme climatic variations. The detailed specifications for modified bitumen have been issued by IRC: SP: 53-1999. It must be noted that the performance of PMB and CRMB is dependent on strict control on temperature during construction.

The advantages of using modified bitumen are as follows

1- Lower susceptibility to daily and seasonal temperature variations

2- Higher resistance to deformation at high pavement temperature

3- Better age resistance properties

4- Higher fatigue life for mixes

5- Better adhesion between aggregates and binder

6- Prevention of cracking and reflective cracking

Requirements of Bitumen

The desirable properties of bitumen depend on the mix type and construction. In general, Bitumen should posses following desirable properties.

1- The bitumen should not be highly temperature susceptible: during the hottest weather the mix should not become too soft or unstable, and during cold weather the mix should not become too brittle causing cracks.

2- The viscosity of the bitumen at the time of mixing and compaction should be adequate. This can be achieved by use of cutbacks or emulsions of suitable grades or by heating the bitumen and aggregates prior to mixing.

3- There should be adequate affinity and adhesion between the bitumen and aggregates used in the mix.

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