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" Asphalt" is a dark brown to black, highly viscous, hydrocarbon produced from petroleum distillation residue. This distillation can occur naturally, resulting in asphalt lakes, or occur in a petroleum refinery using crude oil. In 2008, the U.S. produced about 30 million tons of asphalt at a rough value of around $12 billion (SBI Energy, 2009). Roads and highways constitute the largest single use of asphalt at 90 percent of the total (SBI Energy, 2009). In HMA, asphalt functions as a waterproof, thermoplastic, viscoelastic adhesive. By weight, asphalt generally accounts for between 4 and 8 percent of HMA and makes up about 25 - 30 percent of the cost of an HMA pavement structure depending upon the type and quantity. The paving industry also uses asphalt emulsions, asphalt cutbacks and foamed asphalt.

Trinidad Lake, a source of natural asphalt Oil refinery
Figure 1: Trinidad Lake Asphalt Figure 2: Chevron Hawai'i Refinery

" Asphalt cement" refers to asphalt that has been prepared for use in HMA and other paving applications. This section uses the generic term, "asphalt binder", to represent the principal binding agent in HMA because "asphalt binder" includes asphalt cement as well as any material added to modify the original asphalt cement properties.

Asphalt Physical Properties

Asphalt can be classified by its chemical composition and physical properties. The pavement industry typically relies on physical properties for performance characterization although an asphalt's physical properties are a direct result of its chemical composition. Typically, the most important physical properties are:

Grading Systems

Asphalt binders are typically categorized by one or more shorthand grading systems according to their physical characteristics. These systems range from simple to complex and represent an evolution in the ability to characterize asphalt binder. Today, most state agencies use or are planning to switch to the Superpave performance grading (PG) system.

HDOT uses the Superpave PG system.  Currently, only one grade of asphalt, PG 64-16 is readily available in Hawai'i.  Although this is adequate for most applications, high traffic and heavy duty applications as well as SMA usually require a stiffer asphalt binder (e.g., a PG 70-16), which essentially has to be special ordered. 

It is important to understand that Hawai'i uses the same asphalt binder now as it did before HDOT implemented the Superpave PG grading system - the binder meets both the viscosity grading requirements of an AR-8000 and the Superpave PG grading requirements of a PG 64-16.


Penetration Grading

  Penetration needle  
  Figure 3: Penetration needle.  

Based on the depth a standard needle will penetrate an asphalt binder sample when placed under a 100 g load for 5 seconds (see Figure 3). The test is simple and easy to perform but it does not measure any fundamental parameter and can only characterize asphalt binder at one temperature (77°F). Penetration grades are listed as a range of penetration units (one penetration unit = 0.1 mm of penetration by the standard needle). Typical asphalt binders used in the U.S. are 65-70 pen and 85-100 pen. This system is not used in Hawai'i, although the current asphalt used would meet 805-100 pen specifications.

Viscosity Grading

Measures penetration (as in penetration grading) but also measures an asphalt binder's viscosity at 140°F and 275°F. Testing can be done on virgin (AC) or aged (AR) asphalt binder. Grades are listed in poises (cm-g-s = dyne-second/cm2) or poises divided by 10. Typical asphalt binders used in the U.S. are AC-10, AC-20, AC-30, AR-4000 and AR-8000. Viscosity grading is a better grading system but it does not test low temperature asphalt binder rheology.

Superpave Performance Grading (PG) System

The Superpave PG system was developed as part of the Superpave research effort to more accurately and fully characterize asphalt binders for use in HMA pavements. The PG system is based on the idea that an HMA asphalt binder’s properties should be related to the conditions under which it is used. For asphalt binders, this involves expected climatic conditions as well as aging considerations. Therefore, the PG system uses a common battery of tests (as the older penetration and viscosity grading systems do) but specifies that a particular asphalt binder must pass these tests at specific temperatures that are dependant upon the specific climatic conditions in the area of intended use. Therefore, a binder used in Hawai'i would be different than one used in, say, Alaska.

Superpave performance grading is reported using two numbers – the first being the average seven-day maximum pavement temperature (in °C) and the second being the minimum pavement design temperature likely to be experienced (in °C). Thus, a PG 64-16 is intended for use where the average seven-day maximum pavement temperature is 64°C and the expected minimum pavement temperature is -16°C. Notice that these numbers are pavement temperatures and not air temperatures. The typical PG grade used in Hawai'i is a PG 64-16.  Realistically, pavement temperatures in Hawai'i will never dip down to -16°C, but the typical asphalt binder used will meet this standard so it is graded as such.

Asphalt Binder Modifiers

Some asphalt cements require modification in order to meet specifications. Asphalt cement modification has been practiced for over 50 years but has received added attention in the past decade or so. There are numerous binder additives available on the market today. The benefits of modified asphalt cement can only be realized by a judicious selection of the modifier(s); not all modifiers are appropriate for all applications. In general, asphalt cement should be modified to achieve the following types of improvements (Roberts et al., 1996):

Close-up of hot mix asphalt mixtures showing effects of anti-strip

Figure 4: Effects of an antistripping modifier.

Other Forms of Asphalt Used in Paving

Besides asphalt cement, three other forms of asphalt are used prominently in the paving industry:


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