Also known as: bitumen, road oil

Asphalt is the densest liquid refined product produced by a refinery, but it only stays liquid if stored and transported heated. It becomes a solid if allowed to cool to normal atmospheric temperatures.

Asphalt is primarily made up of large, dense molecules called asphaltenes.

The major uses for asphalt are as a binder for road paving and in construction materials such as asphalt roofing shingles.

Although asphalt is generally valued lower than crude oil, it is considered a value-adding product because it is made from the densest, lowest-value part of crude oil, the vacuum resid, yet it is typically valued higher than residual fuel oil. So the value to a refinery from making asphalt comes not from the high value of the product, but from the low cost of the feedstock.

Only a very limited number of refineries produce any asphalt because of the relatively small end market, so it is generally considered to be one of the specialty products.

The Refinery Reference Desk includes content derived from our industry experts as well as from public data sources such as company websites. Nothing herein is intended to serve as investment advice. This material is based on information that we believe to be reliable and adequately comprehensive, but we do not represent that such information is in all respects accurate or complete. McKinsey Energy Insights does not accept any liability for any losses resulting from use of the content.

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