Future of the Oil Sands: Bitumen Beyond Combustion

Aaron Foyer
Bitumen Beyond Combustion

Heavy oil known as bitumen has chemical and physical properties, relative to other global crude oils, that make it ideal for creating low-emission, high-value materials that will be increasingly needed in a net-zero world.

What is bitumen?

Bitumen is a thick, viscous fluid made up of heavy hydrocarbons usually found in oil seeps or oil sands.

Bitumen uses:

  • 85% – Used in asphalt for paving roads, runways, and parking lots
  • 10% – Used in roofing for waterproofing
  • 5% – Used for sealing and insulating

Bitumen Beyond Combustion Products

There are many current and future materials needed to achieve net-zero goals that are derived from bitumen and heavy oil.

Light fraction

  • Resins and lubricants (ex. lubricating oil)
  • Sustainable bitumen products (ex. graphene and fibre glass)
  • Chemicals (ex. drugs with RX prescription pad)

Heavy fraction

  • Activated carbon (ex. supercapacitor)
  • Asphalt binder (ex. freshly paved road)
  • Carbon fibre (ex. wind turbine blades)

Bitumen Beyond Combustion Product Used for Reducing Emissions

Bitumen Beyond Combustion products can be used to help other sectors be more efficient and reduce emissions.

  • Wind turbine blades: Carbon fibre is blended with polymers to help make wind turbine blades lighter and more durable. Without carbon fibre, wind turbines would be much less efficient at producing electricity.
  • Future grids: Activated carbon is used in both supercapacitors and batteries, critical components in smart grids and renewable energy technologies.
  • Transportation: Carbon fibre’s lightweight and durability helps airplanes and shipping vessels be more fuel efficient and offers opportunities to replace steel in the rail industry.
  • Sustainable roads: Asphalt binder from Alberta bitumen is among the most durable in the world, making roads more sustainable and requiring less constructions and repair.
  • Construction: Carbon fibre increases the strength and rigidity of wood paneling, concrete, and composite materials resulting in fewer repairs and maintenance and extending the life of buildings.

Key stats

  • 19.3% – Annual growth rate of Chinese carbon fibre market
  • $213 per barrel – Estimated value of non-combustion products made from bitumen
  • 65 million tonnes – Greenhouse gas emissions reduced for every million barrels of bitumen used


Bitumen Beyond Combustion – How Oil Sands Can Help the World Reach Net-zero Emissions and Create Economic Opportunities for Alberta and Canada