WEAKNESS OF AASHTO ASPHALT MIX DESIGN

 

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.

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ASPHALT, A REALY INERESTING LIQUID

Resisting Failure if Treated with Care

 

A pavement is about 93-96% rock, by weight, however it seems that there is a strong belief that by properly modifying the asphalt all problems can be solved. Asphalt or more properly, asphalts have served us well, even before modification. The properties of asphalts are primarily determined by their crude sources, however blending crudes or asphalts can at times produce an asphalt that performs better than either of the components. Modifying asphalts can also enhance their properties. However, it is important that we keep in mind that its performance depends to a great extent to its ability to flow, and its ability to suppress hardening as time goes.

Rutting is Not an Asphalt Failure. Asphalt is a liquid whose job is to flow in response to stress. If a pavement ruts, it is either ground by studded tires, or the aggregate size or the gradation is improper. If the stress is greater than the aggregate can handle, rutting occurs with the asphalt doing what it is designed to do, flow. Modifying the asphalt can affect how fast the flow occurs, however it is the aggregate properties that affect the rutting.

Many Aggregates Prefer Water to Asphalt. Asphalt doesn’t work well if it can’t stick to aggregate. Water can interfere with adhesion. One cause can be in the asphalt itself. If it is produced from crude oil that had been treated with caustic soda, it will contain soaps that will make the asphalt itself water sensitive. That has been solved by lime treating the crude. Antistrips are used to aid adhesion; however it has been shown that with some antistrips the effect wears off which allows water to lift the asphalt off of the rocks. There is one antistrip that combines chemically to aggregate and provides long term durability.

Non-load Associated Cracking Occurs when the Asphalt Cannot Relax Stresses. The fluidity of the asphalt is essential to prevent cracking. Trying to make the asphalt stronger only makes the matter worse as its maximum tensile strength is about 1000 psi. Portland cement cannot defeat thermal stress so don’t expect asphalt to do so. The solution is to have a binder that can relax stresses faster than they build up.

Pavement Slippage. Slippage occurs when of tack coats and primes are not used properly.

Fatigue Failure. There are suggestions that asphalt could be modified to increase its stiffness so that the pavement thickness could be reduced. Again it must be remembered that it is the aggregate that carries the load, in compression, not the asphalt. However fatigue failure occurs in tension, and again the tensile strength of asphalt is much less than that of aggregate. The pavement is stretched underneath the wheel path, and between the wheel paths. However, tensile failure is often really crack propagation, thus additives that stop crack propagation such as tire buffings may be of value.

chemistdunning@gmail.com, http://www.petroleumsciences.com

SOME BASIC CAUSES OF PAVEMENT FAILURE

Basics

INTRODUCTION

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.

CRACKING

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.

PAVEMENT SLIPPAGE

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.

RUTTING

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.

WATER DAMAGE

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 

UNRELIABILITY OF PG GRADING SYSTEM

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

REDUCING HOT MIXED ASPHALT COSTS

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

 

 

ASPHALT AND ASPHALTENE

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.

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.

Asphaltene

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.

Modification

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

GUARANTEEING UNPRODUCTIVE RESEARCH ON RUTTING

Expecting Binder Research to Solve the Problem

In a previous article “Fundamental Causes of Cracking, Potholes, Raveling, and Rutting in Asphalt Pavements” I touched on some of the causes of rutting. I wish to expand on this subject. However I wish to exclude rutting from studded tires as that problem has not been solved at this time.
Prior to the establishment of the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) I attended a meeting in which it was stated that the goal was to develop an asphalt that could solve all of the problems that occur in pavements. The philosophy that problems reside primarily with the asphalt is still deeply encountered, however, in my opinion it is all “vanity and blowing into the wind”. That does not mean that there isn’t a place for asphalt research because great strides have been made in resolving pavement problems with modified asphalts. In fact, with rutting, I am sure many will state that with such and such binder, the rut tester shows an improvement in rut resistance. And I am sure that their data is correct. However I would suggest that those modifications only affect the rate at which rutting occurs not the basic cause. The misconception is that it is the properties of the asphalt that allows rutting. That is false. A properly performing asphalt is a liquid and is purposely designed to not resist rutting or any other stress that might prevent it from flowing. In fact one of the solutions to low temperature cracking is to modify the asphalt so that it can flow to relax thermal stresses before they reach the point where the asphalt fractures.

If one wishes a life time research project on rutting, concentrate only on the binder and work only with oversanded aggregate gradations. Do I mean that the aggregate gradation is part of the problem? Yes. In fact the aggregate gradation is the problem; and the present gradation specifications specifically allow oversanded mixes, thus, allowing the construction of tender and rut prone pavements to be built. I learned this from Vaughn Marker and Went Lovering of the Asphalt Institute back when I had more hair, and it was not so grey. (Went Lovering also had worked for CALTRANS and was a great source of knowledge and wisdom. He was instrumental in the development of the Hveem Design.)

How can we get oversanded mixes. First draw a straight line on the 0.45 power gradation chart from the % passing of first sieve that retains aggregate to that of the – #200. If you want an oversanded mix, make sure that the -# 4 gradation is above that line. If it is below the line, you can still meet that goal of an oversanded rut prone mix if the gradation in the -#30 range goes above that line. It is true that messing with the ability of the binder to flow will help reducing the rate of rutting, but, of course, non-load associated cracking is associated with the lack of ability for the binder to relax thermal stresses. In this manner research can be continually funded so that one can be an expert on how to not to stop rutting and tenderness.

You do want an oversanded mix for hydraulic structures, however.

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

PAVEMENT DISTRESS. WHO’S TO BLAME

Tort or Penalties Called for, or the Result of Natural Aging

Once a pavement is laid it is expected to last a long time. However over time distress will occur at which time there can be a blame game, especially if tort lawyers get involved. Unfortunately the attorneys may team up with “experts” who have only limited understanding of pavement technology and absolutely no understanding of multivariate statistics upon which are based possible penalties where data collected during construction would suggest there would be future distress.

In a construction contract there are various contractors involved. One contractor may prepare the subgrade and base while another would lay the pavement. The design engineer may not have built in sufficient strength into the pavement or paid attention to the properties of the paving material with respect to the expected traffic. Also, whether the location is in a city or on a highway will affect judgments. Following are a few types of distress:

Residential Streets.

  1. There is a sunken “bird bath” in the street. There were separate contractors for the subgrade, base and pavement. There were alligator cracking in the sunken area. The thickness of the pavement is the design thickness. Who’s at fault and what can be done? Usually the paving contractor will be blamed; however the actual problem is an area in the subgrade that was not properly compacted. The pavement has to follow the consolidation that occurs in the subgrade thus the cracking comes from stretching the pavement as it sinks and is not the fault of the paving contractor. To repair it the section may be removed and reconstructed. If the pavement is to be slurry sealed, leveling can be done by the slurry seal contractor.
  2.  There is loss of matrix, called raveling, in the pavement in areas of continuing flowing water. Wet asphalt pavements are weaker than dry ones. This usually occurs on corners where there is shear stress from the tires. The source of the water needs to be identified and stopped. There are asphalt paving mixes designed for hydraulic structures, however a pavement in a street is not one of them. Another cause is the lack of use of additives to the asphalt that address the loss of wet strength. A discussion of such additives is outside of my goal at this time however it will be addressed later.

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Main Streets and Highways

  1. Longitudinal Crack in the Wheel Path. This usually starts in the right wheel path and later occurs in the left wheel path. This is caused by lack of structural strength. It can be accelerated by lack of proper compaction or lack of anti stripping additives in the asphalt. It isn’t unusual for an agency to mill off two inches and repave. That is like blowing in the wind, as the lack of structural strength continues, and the cracks will soon reappear. The lack of structural strength and stripping are design problems, not construction.
  2. Damaged from Studded Tires. In areas in which studded tires are used there will be ruts, whether the pavement in asphalt concrete or portland cement concrete. The width between ruts will be consistent to that of passenger tires. That problem still lacks a solution. Some say that such rutting is caused by trucks, but that is not true for ruts described above. Rutting caused by trucks is a mix design problem that is solvable. In that case the width between ruts is that of truck tires, and the effect of the duals is obvious. This is not caused by poor construction techniques.
  3. Traffic Cause Ruts. There is a considerable effort to solve rutting by changing the binder. Adjusting the binder can affect the rate of rutting; however the true solution to rutting is to make sure that the coarse aggregate particles can interlock. Yet the specifications generally allow over-sanded mixes in which a sand asphalt matrix is supposed to stop rutting. I would suggest that both the design engineer and the supplier of the (hot mixed asphalt) HMA are equally at fault. The design engineer specified gradation limits that allow oversanded mixes, and the HMA supplier crushed and blended to a gradation that would cause ruts when in the pavement.
  4. Block (Thermal) Cracking. Often called transverse cracking, however it really occurs in blocks if the pavement is wide enough. This cracking occurs when the asphalt in the pavement is too hard to relax thermal stress fast enough. Public agencies or other owners are at fault for not sealing the pavements, which reduces the hardening rate of the asphalt.
  5. Water Damage. If the aggregate would prefer being wetted by water rather than asphalt, the asphalt will at least get weak, and probably strip off. The result is raveling. While there are additives to asphalt that helps in this area, there are data that shows that some of the more popular antistrips may lose their ability to prevent stripping over time. Once the pavement loses it strength, fatigue cracking may also be prevalent. The fault here is the design specification that does not specify proper antistrips.

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

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF ASPHALTENES IN ASPHALT?

What are asphaltenes? While often discussions about the composition of asphalt will define asphaltenes in chemical terms, the basic definition is that asphaltenes are material in asphalt that is insoluble in certain solvents. For some, asphaltenes appear to be something that is in the way that must be tolerated. That is far from the truth. First, as mentioned above, the definition of asphaltenes is simply material insoluble in either pentane, hexane, heptan or octane, depending on the method used. Often the compositions are described as being saturates, aromatics, polar materials and asphaltenes. In fact asphaltenes might be considered to be simply the part of polar materials that are insoluble in some arbitrary solvent. If an asphaltenes-free asphalt is exposed to light, new asphaltenes will be formed. In fact pictures have been taken using asphaltenes-free asphalt as the “film”. Upon exposure to light a picture is formed.

What do they do? Asphaltenes have three important functions: 1) a bodying agent; 2) forming a complex structure that aids in performance in conjunction with the other polar materials; 3) and helps to reduce hardening with time.

Bodying agent. There was an asphalt a number of years ago that was essentially asphaltenes free. It acted almost like lubricating oil and was such a problem that the agencies insisted that it be blended with different more suitable asphalt. Normally once a hot mix is made, and cools, a gel like structure is formed that aids in the setting of a hot mix. With some asphalts there is a setting problem because the formation of that structure is slow or weak and mixes made with them are tender. Other asphalts result in hot mixes that set very well and are not considered to be tender. At one time California DOT had a test using what they called the cohesiograph that measured tenderness.

Performance.  Tender mixes tend to rut easier and to be easily marred from power steering. If the aggregate gradation in the hot mix has too much sand, the mix will be very hard to compact. If the asphaltenes bodies up the mix well, compaction will go well even with oversanded mixes.

Aging. When the relationship between the polar-asphaltenes is optimum, oxidation will be controlled. In the asphalt “micelles” (a term coined by Dr. Claine Petersen, one of the foremost asphalt scientist in the world in my opinion) are formed such that oxidation is restricted for the material in the micelle so that the rate of oxidation decreases with time. With asphalts in which the asphaltenes are too well dissolved and micelles do not form, the rate of oxidation continues resulting in very hard asphalts in the pavement in a relatively short time. We have run across some cracked pavements that were not very old but the asphalt was very badly oxidized. The asphalt used was from a crude oil in which the micelles do not occur.

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