Tarmac, pavement, tar, and bitumen are all words commonly used to describe what we know as asphalt. Interesting enough, bitumen is not actually the same as asphalt. It is part of the composition of the black material used on roadways, but in its own right, it is a totally separate substance.   

We know asphalt is generally composed of sand and aggregates. Bitumen is the liquid component that binds these materials together. Like asphalt, bitumen can be used as a top protective layer on a roadway. 

In this article, we will take a look at each type of paving material and compare asphalt vs. bitumen for a better understanding of these closely linked materials. 

What Is Asphalt?

Asphalt Paving Toronto

Asphalt is the covering we see, walk on, and drive on top of in parking lots, walkways, and roads. It is the same coating used on airport runways, sports arenas, and industrial surfaces. 

Asphalt can be described as a dark-coloured petroleum-like material that has a consistency ranging from sticky liquid to a glossy solid. Its origins are found in natural deposits or petroleum distillation. The main components are hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. 

Asphalt is typically made of aggregates such as sand, stone, and crushed rock. A binding substance is used to firmly unite the aggregates. 

What Is Bitumen?


This binding substance asphalt depends on to form is called bitumen. As it is part of the asphalt mixing, the term bitumen is often used when referring to asphalt. 

Bitumen is produced from crude oil. During the distilling process, the liquid in the crude oil is removed, thus leaving the heavy viscous form of bitumen.  

Its components create a binding and water-resistant adhesive. These properties allow bitumen to be used alone as a road cover or as a bonding agent for asphalt fabrications. 

Differences Between Bitumen And Asphalt

Differences Bitumen Asphalt
  • Blown Bitumen
  • Cutback Bitumen
  • Straight Run Bitumen
  • Penetration Grade
  • Bitumen Emulsion
  • Residual Bitumen
  • Natural Asphalt
  • Residual Asphalt
Composition Advantages 
  • Cheaper material to process
  • Recyclable because it can also be heated back up to a melting point
  • Durable because it can last over 20 years
  • Cost-effective for driveways and road surfaces
  • Minimal noise
  • Energy-efficient by reducing friction between the tire and car, better fuel economy, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions
  • Safer with a smoother and skid-resistant surface 
  • Reduced wear and tear on vehicles and tires
  • Unsafe if damaged 
  • Extremely noisy
  • Risk of wearing down tires
  • Less durable
  • Slick and soft in extreme weather conditions
  • Causes pollution to soil and groundwater
  • Vulnerable to weather damage
  • The underlayer needs to be smooth 
  • More expensive
Road Construction Process
  • Preparation of the existing base course layer
  • Application of tack coat
  • Preparation and placing of premix
  • Rolling
  • Quality control of bituminous concrete construction
  • Finished surface
  • Demolition and removal of the underlayer 
  • Grading and Sloping
  • Preparing the subbase
  • Proof roll and repair
  • Binder layer laid
  • Install new asphalt surface
  • Smooth transitions
  • Final roll
Uses & Application 
  • Manufacturing, roofing, and damp proofing felts
  • Sealing accumulators and batteries
  • Insulation for buildings, refrigeration, and cold storage
  • Waterproofing and damp proofing
  • Water barrier
  • Embankment protection
  • Hydraulic and erosion control
  • Dam grouting
  • Reservoir lining
  • Swimming pool construction
  • Drainage gutters
  • Various engineering purposes 
  • Waterproof layer for tanks, roofs, and swimming pools
  • Damp-proof courses
  • Flooring materials
  • Preparing paints felt flashing
  • Water barriers in basements
  • Road construction and private roads
  • Parking area construction
  • Sports construction
  • Recreation area construction
  • Colloidal in nature
  • Thermoplastics
  • No specific melting, boiling, or freezing point
  • Insoluble in water
  • Highly impermeable to the passage of water
  • Oxidizes slowly
  • Adhesive
  • Durability
  • Versatility
  • Economic strength
  • Good insulator of electricity, heat, and sound
  • Tough and durable material
  • Water-proof material 
  • Resilient and elastic
  • Non-flammable and non-absorbent 
  • Not attacked by acids and is safe against vermin


So, Are Asphalt and Bitumen the Same?

In comparison to their different properties and uses, asphalt and bitumen are not the same. They are often used to describe each other as they both are used as a road cover. 

Asphalt paving and asphalt pavement maintenance services focus on heavy-traffic surfaces such as roads, parkways, commercial lots, and sports arenas. The durability of asphalt allows for stability in the creation of linings for reservoirs, canals, and pools. 

Asphalt is formed with bitumen as a binder component while bitumen can be used on its own as a coating for a roadway. 

Bitumen acts as a sealer for other products. In fact, it was first developed to bind building materials and now has more than 250 applications as a sealer, waterproofing agent, and insulator. It’s used as a commercial boiler fuel component for power plants in Canada, China, Japan, and Lithuania. 

On average, asphalt consists of between 3.5% to 5% bitumen. Calculations of bitumen content are dependent on the width of the road to be covered as well as the required thickness of the asphalt to be used. 

Should I Use Asphalt or Bitumen?

The answer to this question really depends on the environment for which asphalt or bitumen is to be used. For heavy traffic areas such as roads and parking lots, asphalt provides a more durable long-lasting result. Bitumen for paving should be used in less-travelled areas such as driveways and carparks. 

Contact Sure-Seal for Professional Asphalt Paving Contractors in Toronto

For dependable asphalt sealcoating and asphalt repair services, contact Sure-Seal Pavement Maintenance Inc. As the leading commercial pavement contractor of GTA property managers, property owners, and professional contractors, we have the expertise and equipment to provide top-quality service. Contact us today to learn more about our services or to book a consultation.