Asphalt concrete (commonly called asphalt, blacktop, or pavement in North America, and tarmac, bitumen macadam, or rolled asphalt in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland) is a composite material commonly used to surface roads, parking lots, airports, and the core of embankment dams. Asphalt mixtures have been used in pavement construction since the beginning of the twentieth century. It consists of mineral aggregate bound together with asphalt, laid in layers, and compacted. The process was refined and enhanced by Belgian inventor and U.S. immigrant Edward De Smedt.
Warm-mix asphalt concrete (commonly abbreviated as WMA)
This is produced by adding either zeolites, waxes, asphalt emulsions, or sometimes even water to the asphalt binder prior to mixing. This allows significantly lower mixing and laying temperatures and results in lower consumption of fossil fuels, thus releasing less carbon dioxide, aerosols and vapors. Not only are working conditions improved, but the lower laying-temperature also leads to more rapid availability of the surface for use, which is important for construction sites with critical time schedules. The usage of these additives in hot mixed asphalt (above) may afford easier compaction and allow cold weather paving or longer hauls. Use of warm mix is rapidly expanding. A survey of US asphalt producers found that nearly 25% of asphalt produced in 2012 was warm mix, a 416% increase since 2009. Warm mix asphalt represents a concrete opportunity to create, develop, and implement a cleaner pavement process which leads to a significant decrease of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
Cut-back asphalt concrete
Is a form of cold mix asphalt produced by dissolving the binder in kerosene or another lighter fraction of petroleum prior to mixing with the aggregate. While in its dissolved state, the asphalt is less viscous and the mix is easy to work and compact. After the mix is laid down the lighter fraction evaporates. Because of concerns with pollution from the volatile organic compounds in the lighter fraction, cut-back asphalt has been largely replaced by asphalt emulsion.
A variety of specialty asphalt concrete mixtures have been developed to meet specific needs, such as stone-matrix asphalt, which is designed to ensure a very strong wearing surface, or porous asphalt pavements, which are permeable and allow water to drain through the pavement for controlling stormwater.
Different types of asphalt concrete have different performance characteristics in terms of surface durability, tire wear, braking efficiency and roadway noise. In principle, the determination of appropriate asphalt performance characteristics must take into account the volume of traffic in each vehicle category, and the performance requirements of the friction course.
With regard to structural performance, the asphalt behaviour depends on a variety of factors including the material, loading and environmental condition. Furthermore, the performance of pavement varies over time. Therefore, the long-term behaviour of asphalt pavement is different from its short-term performance. The LTPP is a research program by the FHWA, which is specifically focusing on long-term pavement behaviour.
High temperatures soften the asphalt binder, allowing heavy tire loads to deform the pavement into ruts. Paradoxically, high heat and strong sunlight also cause the asphalt to oxidize, becoming stiffer and less resilient, leading to crack formation. Cold temperatures can cause cracks as the asphalt contracts. Cold asphalt is also less resilient and more vulnerable to cracking.
The life of a road can be prolonged through good design, construction and maintenance practices. During design, engineers measure the traffic on a road, paying special attention to the number and types of trucks. They also evaluate the subsoil to see how much load it can withstand. The pavement and subbase thicknesses are designed to withstand the wheel loads. Sometimes, geogrids are used to reinforce the subbase and further strengthen the roads. Drainage, including ditches, storm drains and underdrains are used to remove water from the roadbed, preventing it from weakening the subbase and subsoil.