Bitumen

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Bitumen is a mixture of organic liquids that are highly viscous, black, sticky, entirely soluble in carbon disulfide, and composed primarily of highly condensed polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Naturally occurring or crude bitumen is a sticky, tar-like form of petroleum that is so thick and heavy that it must be heated or diluted before it will flow. At room temperature, it has a consistency much like cold molasses.[1] Refined bitumen is the residual (bottom) fraction obtained by fractional distillation of crude oil. It is the heaviest fraction and the one with the highest boiling point, boiling at 525 °C (977 °F).

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History

The use of bitumen for waterproofing and as an adhesive dates at least to the third millennium BCE in the early Indus community of Mehrgarh where it was used to line the baskets in which they gathered crops.[2] The Sumerians also used it as early as the third millennium BCE in statuary, mortaring brick walls, waterproofing baths and drains, in stair treads, and for shipbuilding. Other cultures such as Babylon, India, Persia, Egypt, and ancient Greece and Rome continued these uses, and in several cases the bitumen has continued to hold components securely together to this day. In some versions of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, the name of the substance used to bind the bricks of the Tower of Babel is translated as bitumen (see Gen 11:3). Although its existence has not been confirmed, a one-kilometer tunnel beneath the river Euphrates at Babylon in the time of Queen Semiramis (ca. 700 B.C.) was reportedly constructed of burnt bricks covered with bitumen as a waterproofing agent.[3]

The term bitumen comes from Latin.[4] The Greek name for the substance was άσφαλτος (asphaltos). Approximately 40 A.D. Dioscorides described production of asphaltos (as distinguished from pissasphalt and naphtha): (1655 Goodyer translation). The terms asphalt and bitumen are often used interchangeably to mean both natural and manufactured forms of the substance.

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