Controlling Voids in Mineral Aggregate (VMA)

Considerable effort is being made to reduce costs and amount of hydrocarbons that go into hot mixed asphalt (HMA) pavements. One such effort is to find ways to mix and compact at a lower temperature thus reducing the amount of fuel required. However, saving fuel can also be obtained by reducing the amount of asphalt used as asphalt can also be sold as a component of heavy fuel oil or cracked to make diesel, gasoline etc.

Mix Design.

Irrespective of the type of mix design or the amount of modification of the asphalt, the basic properties for an acceptable product remains the same. If we get down to basics, we want the gradation to be such that it inhibits rutting, want the gradation in the # 30 sieve size to be such that there isn’t a lack of material in that area and want the composition of the binder to be such that the film thickness is somewhere between 7 and 10 microns (based upon our experience. Idaho specifies 6 microns as a minimum) and, for example for a ½” nominal design, an effective asphalt content of 4-5%.

Trade off between % Asphalt and VMA. As the VMA increases, the % asphalt  required increases at a rate of about 0.25% per each percent of increased VMA, the exact amount depending on the actual specific gravities of the aggregate and asphalt. For a 400 ton an hour plant, the reduction of the VMA of 1% would reduce the asphalt by one ton per hour or a savings of $500/hour if asphalt is $500/ton.

Silliness of the “Forbidden Zone”. Some Superpave gradation specifications have a “forbidden zone” for the gradation through which the gradation must not go. It is supposed to be on the maximum density line (on the 0.45 power gradation curve) of the aggregate; however, in addition to being silly, it doesn’t even fall on the actual maximum density curve for the job mix formula.

Effect of RAP on VMA. With the introduction of SUPERPAVE the VMA, which used to be 13% if one was used, was increased to 14%. We were having problems in being able to make the 14% with granite aggregate, and found that we had to control this by blowing out -#200 material. On one project I used a factorial experimental design to aid in adjusting the gradation with considerable success. This allows evaluating the effect of numerous variables on mix properties. Of course saving money by reducing the VMA was not an option. With the introduction of RAP, however, the VMAs rose by as much as 2%, requiring as much as 0.5% more total asphalt (including that in the RAP).

Reducing VMA to Reduce Cost

A number of years ago I did a Gram-Schmidt orthogonalization on gradation data. I found that there were only three truly independent variables, one of which was the % -#200 material. By using three independent aggregate criteria and % asphalt as a fourth variable we should be able to determine what changes should be made in the mix to minimize the VMA within the specification criteria, thus minimizing cost. I would suggest the use of a 24 factorial design with triplicate centerpoint to find the most economical gradation. The following would be for a ½” nominal mix design. For variables I would use: 1) the % of the gradation between the ½” and the #4 screens; 2) the % of the gradation between the #4 and #30; 3) the  % -#200; and 4) the % asphalt. We have found that a Hveem compaction at the recommended compaction temperatures for a 75 gyration Superpave design give the same results as the gyratory compaction. We would suggest that this be done, therefore, with the Hveem compactor as it uses only 1/4th as much aggregate and asphalt as does the 6” gyratory design however gyratory compaction could be used. The advantage of the Hveem is we can also get as a bonus the stability. I would stipulate that one of the boundary limits would be that no gradation point should be above a line on the gradation curve (0.45 power graph) from the % passing through the first sieve that retains aggregate (1/2”) to the % passing of the #200 sieve. This would provide the information needed to minimize the VMA within the specification. The results could provide the starting gradation and asphalt needed for a gyratory design.

Decreasing the VMA from 16.5 to 14.5% for 100,000 tons of mix would save $ 250,000 of $500/ ton asphalt.

Petroleum Sciences, Inc. has the equipment and mathematical knowledge (as there is considerable mathematics involved) to provide a service should a contractor wish to reduce costs. We can set up the experiment to be done in the contractors own facility and then evaluate the results or do the complete project in our facilities.

Robert L. Dunning,,




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