Know Your Pavement: The Difference Between Asphalt, Tar, and Bitumen

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What Makes Asphalt, Tar, and Bitumen Different

When you look at a driveway or a parking lot, you might not think about the different materials that go into creating it. To you, it’s all paving, right?

However, there are actually several different types of paving that are frequently used. So, what’s the difference between each type? It turns out there are a few differences.


To get started looking at asphalt, you’ll need to understand that there are two types of asphalt. The first type of asphalt is called natural asphalt. Natural asphalt is typically found in lakes and rocks, and each type is a little different:

  • Lake Asphalt – contains 40 – 50% pure bitumen. This type of natural asphalt is used for laying roads
  • Rock asphalt – contains 10 – 15% pure bitumen. This type of natural asphalt will typically be used for tiles.

In addition to natural asphalt, residual asphalt is made by distilling an asphalt based petroleum.

In addition to the two types of asphalt, there are several forms that asphalt may take. Each form has slightly different uses.

Cutback Asphalt

Cutback asphalt is a purely liquid form of asphalt. It is typically used in paint solutions or for repairing roofs.

Asphalt Emulsion

Asphalt emulsion must be created using a small amount of emulsifier and a large amount of water. When obtained, it is frequently used for building projects in cold weather and wet climates.

Asphalt Cement

Asphalt cement is created by applying very hot, very high pressure air to natural asphalt. This creates a material that is great for use in flooring and roofing.

Mastic Asphalt

This type of asphalt is created by using heated asphalt and adding minerals and sand. It’s a very solid material, making it great for waterproofing.


learn about different paving types

So you’ve heard us mention bitumen a few times already, but what exactly is it? Bitumen is a material known as mineral tar. It’s made up mostly of carbon, with a small percentage of hydrogen and oxygen as well. You can create bitumen by partially distilling petroleum.

There are four main types of bitumen, and similar to asphalt, each type has its own uses.

Cutback Bitumen

Cutback bitumen is produced by distilling asphaltic bitumen and adding in petroleum. It’s most commonly used for paints.

Bitumen Emulsion

Bitumen emulsion is made very differently from asphalt emulsion. To produce this material, finely grind bitumen and mix it with an aqueous solution. It’s mostly used as a stabilizing material.

Plastic Bitumen

If you need a good sealant, plastic bitumen is the way to go. This material is used to fill in cracks and breaks in between stonework and masonry.

Blown Bitumen

To make blown bitumen, subject the material to high temperatures and high pressures. Once you’ve created the material, it’s a great choice for insulation material.


know your bitumen

Another option for paving is tar. Tar is a liquid with a very high carbon content, more so than bitumen. It’s most commonly used for wood preservation and paving.

Tar typically comes in three different forms: wood tar, coal tar, and mineral tar. Each type of tar has different qualities.

Wood Tar

When creating wood tar, you distill a resinous wood until it releases creosote oil. This type of tar is best used for preserving wood.

Mineral Tar

Mineral tar is produced from rocks with a high amount of bitumen in them. The most common type of rock used in this process is shale. It’s a very adhesive material, great for binding construction items together.

Coal Tar

Coal tar is produced as a byproduct when creating coal gas. It’s created by combining water with gases released during coal production. This type of tar is most commonly used for paving roads.

Each of these paving materials have different uses and characteristics. Ready to use one of them in your own project? Call Limitless Paving and Concrete to get started!

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