Prior to SHRP the mix designs in use were the Marshall and Hveem procedures. They were developed my user agencies and performed well for many decades. The Marshall design is still being used. The SHRP mix design was developed by academics who would not have had the field experience that state agencies would have had. The universities have provided many great advances in paving; however they do not have the experience of personnel with years of experience in road building. However they often have the power to place academic theories into practice. Following are certain problems with the specifications.

Incorrect Use of Maximum Density Line.
 The maximum density line shown in the specifications is based on the maximum aggregate size rather than the nominal size (screen size that first retains aggregate.). The aggregate retained between the maximum size and the nominal size would act in conjunction with that of the material between the nominal size and the next screen size smaller as there is not enough material to interlock. The actual maximum density line that pertains to the mix design is from the nominal screen size to zero. (Using the 0.45 power of the sieve size on the x axis. Note, Rudy Jiménez at The University of Arizona, believed that it should be the 0.50 power; that is, the square root, and he was probably correct.) To properly make judgments about the gradation of the mix, one needs to have the maximum density line that corresponds to the actual aggregate to be used. I was taught this by Vaughn Marker when he was Asphalt Institute Engineer in California. Properly used, it can stop mix problems, such as tender mixes and rutting, from happening.

Forbidden Zone of the Gradation.  This was placed in the specification by academics using the maximum density line from the maximum size gradation not the nominal size gradation. Also it had no value with respect to quality .

Specifications Allow Over-Sanded Mixes. All mix designs allow gradations that will cause tenderness and accelerate rutting. If the proper maximum density line is used, such mixes are readily detected, however that is not so with the worthless maximum density line in the present design procedure. Rutting is highly dependent upon where the VMA in a mix comes from also, which I will discuss in a future blog.

Asphalt Grading Specifications

 The grading specification should be on the RTFO residue as that is what is in the road. Also, the RTFO test should realistically be such that it approximates the properties of the asphalt in the mix in place. The TRFO was designed to mimic the increase in viscosity of the asphalt that is mixed in a batch plant at 320°F with the oxygen partial pressure the same as air. Things are different in a drum mixer. If the air in the drum mixer is 4 times that needed to burn the fuel, the oxygen partial pressure will be decreased by 25% from the combustion reducing the rate of oxidation. Also if moisture is present, the partial pressure of the oxygen will b further decreased. Also if the mixer runs at a temperature less that 320° F, the rate   of oxidation will be further reduced.



I am writing this to provide information with respect to some patents that are now being litigated at the present time by A.L.M holding company against those involved in warm mixed asphalt paving. They cover about all methods of warm mix construction except those using foam technologies, all based upon testing that was done at high shear on a modified Dynamic Shear Rheometer (DSR). The litigation can be followed by looking up “H.L.M Holding litigation” . The plaintiffs are A.L.M holdings, Ergon and Meadwestvaco. The patent numbers for six of their patents are 7,815,725;, 7,981,466; 8,138,242; 7,981,952; 7.984.166; and 7,968,627. The prime inventors are Gerald H. Reinke, La Crosse, WI (US);Gaylon L. Baumgardner, Jackson, MS; Steven L. Engber’ Onalaska’ W1 (US). The patents are assigned to A.L.M. Holding Company, Onalaska.

The patent is based upon testing asphalt with and without additives in shear at very high shear rates to the point at which the viscosity decreases and a normal stress is observed. Following is a description from patent 7,815,725:

While not intending to be bound by theory, the present invention is based, in part, on the observations that the lubricating agents and additives disclosed in this application provide a warm mix having desired visco-lubricity characteristics or properties. As used in this application the term “visco-lubricity” means a characteristic of a material that it exhibits under high rotational velocity as the gap thickness of the material being tested approaches zero. As the gap thickness is reduced and as rotational velocity is increased, the material’s viscosity begins to decrease but the normal force between the plates begins to increase. A material that has good visco-lubricity characteristics will exhibit less normal force increase than one which has poor visco-lubricity. Stated another way, the ability of the material being tested to enable the plates to easily rotate relative to each other becomes more important than the viscosity of the material being tested. An example illustrating the meaning of the term “visco-lubricity” is the observed reduced requirements for the mixing and compaction temperatures of polymer modified asphalt binders compared to conventional asphalt binders. Based on purely viscosity data, polymer modified binders should require mixing and compaction temperatures that are 20-50.degree. F. higher than those which common practice have found to be adequate. Many studies have been conducted to explain this apparent contradiction however none have proven wholly satisfactory. It is now believed that these polymer systems are creating a lubricated asphalt binder having visco-lubricity properties that provide adequate mixing to coat aggregate particles and further provide mix compaction at temperatures substantially below those predicted based on viscosity alone.

The word lubricity means slipperiness. The patent implies that the lubricity, or slipperiness, is defined by the test result obtained in their DSR. There is a problem. The normal stresses are an intrinsic property of viscoelastic materials (in the constitutive equation) and would be observable at all shear rates. (It can be observed as material climbing up the shaft of a mixer during mixing of viscoelastic material). In 1967 Puzinauskas published asphalt viscosity data (Proc. Asphalt Paving Technologist, 1967). From his data, with the equipment he was using, the highest shear stress he could reach was about 1 mPa suggesting shear failure at high shear rates. He had noticed some delamination. I mentioned to him at that time that I had observed cavitation in testing with a sliding plate viscometer with high shear stresses. The data shown in the graphs in the patent could be interpreted that the observe drop in viscosity with increased shear rate is shear failure or delamination and the creation of the normal stresses were not intrinsic to the binder but rather cause by the behavior of pieces of failed binder. If this were to be the case, the patent is not valid.

I would suggest that those interested should review the patents. One will find that there is not much in this world that the inventors don’t claim to be covered by their patents.
Robert L. Dunning 509-220-1360


Means and Standard Deviations as Lengths

When we talk about quality control we hear about distributions, such as the poisson, hypergeometric, binomial, normal, “t”, chi-squared and “F”. How complicated! And we are told to worry about things being independent, are inundated with words like variance, mean, median, mode, standard deviation, whether the standard deviation is homo or hetroscedastic (whether the standard deviation is constant or not), confidence limits, and such things as Type I error, Type II error, null hypothesis etc. It cannot be denied that all of these have their place. However, to get to the basics, all we are really trying to do is measure lengths. Statistics is really simply analytical geometry or linear algebra, depending on one’s outlook. Let’s look at the mean and standard deviation.

Mean (one type of average). We are told that it is the first moment around the origin.

Mathematically it is the integral of xf(x)dx between some limits where f(x) is some distribution  function. Yet it is still length.

Consider a set of “n” data points, X= (x1, x2, —, xn). Then visualize a graph of n dimensions with a single location, X, representing those data. Also visualize a line in that n dimensional space that is equidistant from each axis, i.e. It goes through (1,1,—–,1) etc. Drop a line perpendicular from X to that equidistant line. Call that point M=(µ, µ,—-, µ).  Divide every point by the square root of n, the number of data points to introduce the number of tests into our considerations.

The line (δ ) from the X to M would be the vector (x1– µ, x2– µ, —, xn– µ) while the line (µ) from the origin to M would be the vector (µ, µ,—-, µ). Since the two lines are perpendicular, their scalar (or inner or dot) product would be zero:

((µ, µ,—-, µ))·((x1– µ, x2– µ,—, xn– µ)/ )= 0

x1, + x2, +—-,+ xn – nµ = 0

µ= (x1, + x2, +—-, + xn)/n, which is identical to the form for the mean.

That is, the length of the line µ from the origin to M is equal in value to the mean of the data points.

Standard Deviation. The length of the line, δ, from X to M is the square root of (1/n)*((x1)2+ (x2)2+—-,+ (xn)2 – nµ2). (1/n)*(x1)2+ (x2)2+—-,+ (xn)2 is the square of the length of the line from the origin to the data, X,  while (1/n)*(nµ2) is the square of the length from the origin to the point of M.

δ = ((1/n)*((x1)2+ (x2)2+—-, + (xn)2 -nµ2))0.5

Thus the equation of the length of the line δ is identically to one of the equations used for calculating standard deviations (where the standard deviation is not a random variable. If the sample standard deviation (s) is a random variable, 1/n would be replaced with 1/(n-1)).

Rulers. To measure lengths we need a ruler. We use miles in the United States, in Canada they use kilometers while in Russia, the Verst may be used. In statistics the ruler used is the length, “δ”, if the standard deviation is known or, “s” if the standard deviation is a random variable.

The many terms mentioned above and the sophistication of the mathematics are important in establishing the reliability of the data, still, basically we are only measuring lengths.


Asphalt Compositions Vary.

Those skilled in the art of asphalt technology have known that the composition of an asphalt depends primarily on the crude source. Secondary effects are oxidation and modification either by the addition of polymers or air blowing, which is controlled oxidation to make roofing, pond linings etc. The properties of an asphalt therefore can also vary according to the crude source. Back in the 1960s Rostler, White and others compiled a list of properties and compositions of a very large number of asphalts. It turns out that the properties of blends of asphalts from different sources are sometimes not predictable.

Blending Predictions

The plot of the loglog(viscosity) vs. log(absolute temperature) of an asphalt generally is a straight line. Special graph paper has been available for decades. It turns out that in blending petroleum products, including asphalt, using that graph paper with 0% of an oil at 100° F and 100% at 300° will generally be linear also. At times the X axis may be assumed to be linear rather than the log(absolute temperature). (In ASTM D4887, the X axis is linear.) The resulting plot is not always linear, however, depending upon the composition of the second ingredient. As an example, when blending recovered asphalt from RAP with an aromatic oil, such as Dutrex® 739 or Reclamite® base stock, the viscosity may drop faster than predicted. On the other hand, if a paraffinic oil is used, the actual viscosity may be higher than that predicted from the plot.

We had found that blending 50% 85/100 asphalt from California costal crude with 50% 85/100 asphalt from San Joachim Valley crude resulted in an asphalt with a penetration in the 130s. The same thing was found with a blend of Dubai asphalt with LA Basin asphalt. There are thermodynamic reasons for this based upon non-electrolyte solution chemistry.

Recycled Shingles (RAS)

Roofing asphalt is manufactured by air blowing fluxes containing added lube stock. This changes the composition. An asphalt shingle contains two different air blown products. One is used to saturate the felt or fiberglass while the other is a more viscous asphalt (more air blown) and used in the coating. These two asphalts might be incompatible as the coating asphalt, though harder, contains more oil. If the oil from the coating migrates to the felt or fiberglass the coating might slide off. There is a test used to measure compatibility. Also ferric chloride or phosphorus pentoxide might be used as a catalyst. As the use of air blown asphalt in paving has been correlated with non-load associated cracking, care should be taken in recycling such asphalt. Cracking occurs when the asphalt cannot relax stresses as fast as they build up. A low temperature ductility test is valuable in detecting asphalts that are prone to crack.

Recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) are now being used in paving. In recovering the asphalt from shingles the saturant asphalt and the coating asphalt are blended. It will be interesting in following the performance of pavements using RAS and RAS/RAP added asphalt. As mentioned above, historically, air blown asphalts in pavements are more prone to crack.


It is therefore important to understand that the terms “asphalt” or “bitumen” describe a broad set of materials as does the word “vehicle” in describing a set of transportation equipment. Just because two asphalts are black does not mean that they are compatible. And just because two asphalts are of the same grade, does not mean that a blend will be the same grade. Also, the oxidation process that occurs over time in the pavement is not the same as that which happens in the hot plants, and which is mimicked by the Rolling Thin Film Oven test (RTFO). The RTFO oxidation is the same process that occurs in air blowing. That implies that the chemistry of the oxidation of the asphalt in RAP is different than the chemistry of the asphalt in RAS.


Chemistry of Stripping


We talk about things being as solid and eternal as a rock. But how durable are rocks? Especially with the onslaught of water and carbon dioxide? As our roads are rocks mixed with a cement, either portland cement or asphalt cement, this is an important issue. In this blog I am discussing asphalt concrete, i.e., roads, particularly those with rocks made of granite and basalt.

For clarity, let me describe an almost marriage ending disaster from working with bentonite, which has a composition not that different from granite or basalt. I needed about a pound of sodium bentonite but had to buy 50 pounds. I had just started my business and was working in my garage. What to do with the excess 49 pounds? Well, spread in my wife’s garden of course. Bentonite is a mucky clay, which turned her garden in a field of muck. Fortunately I knew that adding lime would turn the sodium bentonite into calcium bentonite which is friable, eliminating the muck. Bentonite consists of platelets of an aluminate layer sandwiched between two silicate layers. Within the crystal structures of the aluminates and the silicates are other atoms such as potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron etc. These impurities leave “holes” in the crystal structures that carry a negative charge, which must be neutralized with what are called exchangeable ions, which is what saved my marriage. Bentonite doesn’t care what is on the outside as long as it is positive! Calcium from lime is positive.

Clays are the weathering product of rocks.

The challenge with asphalt pavements is to keep the asphalt stuck to the rocks to prevent loss of strength in the pavement.  That loss of strength can come from absorption of water by the asphalt (very rare) or the asphalt becoming unglued from the rocks. As some rocks like water much better than they like asphalt, this is a challenge.

Like bentonite clay, there should be exchangeable ions on the surface of the aggregate; ions that really, really like water. There are products, however, that can stop water sensitivity of the asphalt and which can also make the rocks like asphalt.

Sticking Asphalt to Rocks

What happens at a surface of a rock when water and oil (asphalt) is very complex. I shan’t dwell on the chemistry, much of which is discussed in papers on drilling of oil. It essentially depends on the energies. There are several forces that can come to bear. The weakest are called van der Waals bonds. These bonds are from the natural cohesive forces of molecules causing them to pack closely together.

Wetting of a surface is the result of adhesive and cohesive forces involved, and the energies involved.

The next binding forces are ionic, that is, positive molecules attracted to negative molecules. Although these binding energies can be very high, in solution these ions are mobile, and can be exchanged if they are on the surface of a rock.

A third bond is called covalent, in which atoms share electrons. The bonds that hold rocks together are covalent.

The loss of the bond between asphalt and rocks is called stripping.

There are several materials available to help the asphalt stick to the aggregate with aggregates that have a stripping problem.

Amines. Some of the common antistrips are based upon amines. If the problem is the result of the asphalt, the amines would react with any organic acids, neutralizing the problem. They also would replace sodium and potassium ions on the rock, thus providing resistance to stripping. There are data, however suggesting that that resistance could be lost over time, especially in the presence of salt or magnesium chloride. That replacement might occur from what is called mass action in chemistry.

Lime. Lime also provides stripping resistance, and also can react with the aggregate. There are data suggesting that the ability of the lime to provide protection can diminish with time, however it has generally performed well.

Latex Adding a polymer latex to the aggregate prior to entering the dryer and adding the asphalt has performed well.

Organosilicate. A fourth approach is to bond an organosilicon molecule that is un-wetable directly to the rock with a covalent bond that is as strong as the rock itself. That type of antistrip has performed well even in the presence of salt.

If the HMA cannot be protected from water damage, no other mix property has meaning. With traffic, water damaged pavement comes apart.

Robert L. Dunning, chemistdunning@gmail.com, www.petroleumsciences.com





There are certain basics with respect to pavement failure that have existed since the first pavements were laid. Pavements crack, pavements slip, water damages them, and pavements rut. Irrespective of the tests used to evaluate pavements, failures have the same basic causes.


No matter where the cracking occurs, it is caused by the inability of the asphalt to relax the stresses, and must rupture.

Fatigue Cracking. Stress and strain are what are called tensors, which means that a pavement can be under compression and tension at the same time, but in different directions. While a tire compresses a pavement downward, it forms a deflection basin which causes the pavement to go into tension in both horizontal directions. Many years ago we used data from deflection testing and, assuming a parabola, did a line integral to calculate strain. If the pavement is not strong enough, the asphalt is stretched too far, separates and a crack forms in the wheel track. Also a crack may form between the wheel tracks.

Longitudinal Cracking on Joints. The joint between two passes are especially week. Inside any one pass of the paver, some aggregate willbe on both sides of any plane or slice inside of the pavement. In fact, when sample undergoes an indirect tensile test such as is done in stripping tests, rocks actually fracture. A joint, however, is held together only by the asphalt layer, which has a tensile strength of about 200-1000 psi, depending on the temperature and shear rate. If the asphalt in the mix can flow vertically in response to thermal stresses, the crack won’t form. However, if the stresses exceed that at the joint, a crack forms. As a result the pavement on either side of the crack can shrink or expand independently. Often what happens then is that the pavement sections shrink away from each other in the cold, but do not expand completely back together in the heat. For that reason it is crucial to follow proper technology of forming a joint.

Thermal Cracking.  The mechanism of formation of thermal or non-load associated cracks is again the lack of the asphalt to be able to relieve thermal stresses by flowing vertically up when the pavement is hot and vertically down when the pavement is cold.


From time to time the pavement will shift. In one project I has on at the LAX airport, a 2” lift was slipping on a 4” lift from landing of air traffic. A core was made of the section so it waw possible to observe a daily slippage. Two sources of the problem. First, it was supposed to be 4” over 2”. Secondly, if there was a tack coat, it had been ruined as a result of a dust storm. To prevent slippage a prime needs to be used between the base and pavement, and a tack coat between two lifts.


There are two causes of rutting, improper aggregate gradation and studded tires.

Gradation.  Asphalt itself is too weak to stopthe flow of the mix by itself. If the coarse aggregate in the mix cannot interlock themix has to rely on a mastic composed of the fines and asphalt, which cannot carry the load. The solution is a coarse gradation with no humps in the fine mastic area.

Studded Tires. Research is under way on how to solve this problem. Harder aggregate has helped, but no solution is available now.


If the pavement is not protected from water damage, all of the above is blowing in the wind. There are data that suggest that even pavement protected by amine or lime antistrips will lose much of its strength thus cannot complete its design life. Many aggregates are wetted by water better than asphalt so that if the surface cannot be permanently altered to prefer wetting by asphalt, eventually water will replace the asphalt.

Robert L. Dunning. www.petroleumsciences.com, blog asphaltwaterproofing.wordpress.com 


Superiority of the AR Grading System


AR Grading. The Asphalt Residue (AR) grading system used in the Western part of the United States for decades grew out of the fact that the asphalts in this area differed greatly. While various grades were in use, the workhorse grade was AR 4000 which meant that the asphalt in the pavement, irrespective of crude source, would have the same consistency. AR 4000 meant that the viscosity at 60° C of the asphalt after the RTFO test would be 3000 (2500 in Washington) to 5000 poises. A viscosity of 4000 poise was selected as it was found that at 4000 poises tenderness in oversanded mixes was easier to handle.  60° C is used as in most cases that is about the highest temperature the pavement reaches although in the deserts it can reach considerably higher temperatures. On the other hand, the viscosity at 60° C from the RTFO of equivalent asphalts graded by the AC grading system (2000 ± 400 poises based on original viscosity at 60° F) or by penetration grading system (85/100 based on penetration at 25° C) can vary greatly. For the 85/100 penetration grade, the range of the 60° C viscosity after the RTFO of those asphalts evaluated during the development of the AR grading system varied from about 1600 to over 7000 poises. For an AC 2000 grade asphalt, the probable viscosity after the RTFO aging would range over about 4000-8000 poises, depending on the crude source. The equivalent PG grade is PG 64-XX.

PG Grading. There is an astounding number of PG grades, 7, and up to 6 subgrades within each grade, based upon low temperature properties. If there was consistency within the grades it might make sense, but we have regressed even back beyond the AC grading system. These grades were set up primarily to control tenderness and rutting even while leaving the gradation specification so open that gradations that would allow grievous rutting are included. The equivalent PG grade is based upon the Dynamic Shear test of G*/sinδ of 1.00 kPa at 64° C with no maximum. For a sinδ of 1.00 (close to that of unmodified asphalt) the viscosity is G*· sinδ or 1000 poises. The G*/sinδ value from the RTFO test would be 2.20 kPa min or 2200 poises with sinδ = 1.00 and again there is no maximum. Sinδ for modified asphalts is less than one thus that drops the specification minimum viscosity below that of non-modified asphalt.` In other words, for the asphalt as placed in the pavement, the AR 4000 specification is 3000-5000 poises at 60° C. For the PG 64-XX , the-in place viscosity at 64° C can vary from somewhat less than 2200 poises to as high as one wishes.



Philosophical Inconsistency of the PG Grading System. I am only addressing the grading system, not the value of the low temperature specification. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the use of the DSR, as it is a handy tool. I am suggesting that the grading should have been based upon the consistency of the RTFO residue whether viscosity tubes are used or the DSR. The value of the DSR data is that we can get information about the effect of polymer modification from the phase angle, sigma (δ).

We have shown above that the range of the allowed viscosity from the RTFO test of any particular PG grade is greater than that of any previous grading system even though there is are 7 specific grades in order to control rutting. The implication is that controlling rutting requires fine tuning. Yet, at the same time there is a movement to use warm mixes, one of the benefits of which is that the asphalt will have a considerably lower viscosity than the intention of the grade.

Controlling Rutting. The prime control of tenderness and rutting should be with aggregate gradation.  As long as the gradation specification allows badly oversanded mixes, rutting will be a problem.

Robert L. Dunning, chemistdunning@gmail.com, www.petroleumsciences.com


Chip Seals

The application of a seal coat has a number of functions however one of the most important is to waterproof the pavements, protecting them from water damage and oxidation. If pavements were sealed early in their life, e.g. within a year, the pavements would last a lot longer. Chips seals are used especial on highways.

Chip Seal Emulsion. The emulsified asphalt used for chip seals are specially designed to break very fast on contact with aggregate. Emulsions can be either anionic (basic) or cationic (acidic) although the cationic are very popular. With asphalts from some crude oils the amount of emulsifier required for anionic chip seal emulsions is very small, approaching zero as a result naphthenic acids in the asphalt which serve as emulsifiers when neutralized with caustic soda.

Special Seal Emulsion. There is a product called PASS that has the ability to re-seal cracks and regenerate pavements.

Where to Use. A chip seal does an excellent job as a seal. While it can be used in cities, in my opinion a slurry seal would be better, unless it is a Capeseal in which a slurry is placed over the chip. The disadvantage of use in cities is that the chips can spread over lawns, in driveways, etc.

Mix Design. It is very important that a mix design is done, otherwise there can be failures.

Problems. One of the causes of failure is dirty aggregate. The chip seal emulsions are designed to break immediately on a surface thus when it hits the dust it breaks on the dust and not on the surface of the aggregate. An emulsion type called High Float is more tolerant of dust. Not enough emulsion can cause loss of chips while too much emulsion can called bleeding.  Also when used in cities, loss of chips can occur at the centerline as along the centerline there can be less asphalt as a result of less overlap of the spray. For rural roads this isn’t a big problem as there is not that much turning stress on the aggregate, however in the city, there can be turning traffic out of driveways. Also, there is another important problem; it is difficult to skate on chips.

It isn’t a good career move for a director of public works to place a chip seal on streets in expensive neighborhoods, especially if chips end up on the lawns, sidewalks and driveways.

Robert L. Dunning, chemistdunning@gmail.com, www.petroleumsciences.com


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, www.petroleumsciences.com, chemistdunning@gmail.com




Neither One is a Single Material


Asphalt and asphaltenes are names that show up in articles and papers discussing paving and roofing materials. Especial with people not very familiar with technical field, discussions often sound like each is a single well define material such as salt or water. However that is far from the fact. Some may even feel that asphaltenes are something in the way that needs to be isolated or corralled. Yet they are vital in controlling the properties of an asphalt. Also researchers may reach conclusions on an asphalt from a particular crude source and believe that those conclusions pertain to all asphalts.


Asphalt is the part of crude oil that is left when all the other hydrocarbons have been removed. There are two main ways of separating the asphalt from the gasoline, kerosene and oils; distilling, and solvent extraction.

Source. The properties of a particular unmodified asphalt are controlled by the source of the crude oil. The differences can be profound. In California there are three crude sources that produce entirely different asphalts: California Valley, Coastal and LA Basin. Within those broad designations are subgroups such as the coastal crudes; Santa Maria and San Ardo. A specification can be developed such that it can be met by asphalts from all three sources however they will perform differently. There are some asphalts that have very poor cold temperature performance and others that perform very badly in hot weather.

Distillation. In the distillation of crude oil, one pipe goes into the distillation towers, and a number of pipes come out. Each tower system is designed for a particular crude or crude blend and there are pumps removing the products. What is left over is asphalt on the bottom of the tower also. Some crude oils have no asphalts while others may contain as much as 65% asphalt. If any one of the storage tanks gets full, the refinery has to shut down.

Propane Extraction. The other method is to extract the non-asphalt portion with propane.


One of the components of asphalt is the asphaltenes. Here we have two problems: the misconception that asphaltenes are significantly different than other asphalt components, and the basic definition. While some methods define asphaltenes as n-pentane insoluble material, other methods use hexane or heptane or even iso-octane as the solvent. n-Pentane will produce the largest amount. Because certain asphaltenes are precipitated by a solvent doesn’t mean that there aren’t still other materials in the asphalt that are very similar to asphaltenes. Asphaltenes give body to the asphalt. If the asphaltenes are completely solvated, the asphalt won’t perform well. On the other hand, if they are in a second phase, again the asphalt may cause problems. In some cases, the asphaltenes will be at least solvated sufficiently at ambient temperatures for a single phase to be present, however they may form two phases in cold conditions, resulting in cracking in winter.


The addition of polymer modifiers further complicates the situation. Adding a polymer to any asphalt will result in two phases no matter how well the asphaltenes are solvated. When polymer modification was young problems with phase separation was a problem that had to be resolved. It can be seen that with a wide range of properties in asphalts, polymer modification can be more of an art than a science. One question I have is how well modified asphalts will perform in low temperatures even though they pass all of the low temperature test. For pavements to resist low temperature cracking the binder must be able to stress relax faster than thermal stresses build up. If the binder becomes more like a plastic with a yield force necessary, the pavement will crack.

Robert L. Dunning, chemistdunning@gmail.com, www.petroleumsciences.com