Asphalt concrete, normally known simply as asphalt, is a composite material commonly used for construction of pavement, highways and parking lots. It consists of asphalt binder and mineral aggregate mixed together then laid down in layers and compacted. This method was invented by William Patrick Flanigan, I .
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Mixing of asphalt and aggregate is accomplished in one of several ways:
- Hot mix asphalt concrete (commonly abbreviated as HMAC or HMA) is produced by heating the asphalt binder to decrease its viscosity, and drying the aggregate to remove moisture from it prior to mixing. Mixing is generally performed with the aggregate at about 300 °F (roughly 150 °C), and the asphalt cement at 200 °F (95 °C). Paving and compaction must be performed while the asphalt is sufficiently hot. In many states paving is restricted to summer months because in winter the compacted base will cool the asphalt too much before it is packed to the optimal air content. HMAC is the form of asphalt concrete most commonly used on highly trafficked pavements such as those on major highways, racetracks and airfields.
- Warm mix asphalt concrete (commonly abbreviated as WMA or WAM) is produced by adding either zeolites, waxes, or asphalt emulsions to the mix. This allows significantly lower mixing and laying temperatures and results in lower consumption of fossil fuels, thus releasing less carbon dioxide, aerosols and vapours. 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.
- Cold mix asphalt concrete is produced by emulsifying the asphalt in water with (essentially) soap prior to mixing with the aggregate. While in its emulsified state the asphalt is less viscous and the mixture is easy to work and compact. The emulsion will break after enough water evaporates and the cold mix will, ideally, take on the properties of cold HMAC. Cold mix is commonly used as a patching material and on lesser trafficked service roads.
- Cut-back asphalt concrete is 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.
- Mastic asphalt concrete or sheet asphalt is produced by heating hard grade blown bitumen (oxidation) in a green cooker (mixer) until it has become a viscous liquid after which the aggregate mix is then added.
- The bitumen aggregate mixture is cooked (matured) for around 6-8 hours and once it is ready the mastic asphalt mixer is transported to the work site where experienced layers empty the mixer and either machine or hand lay the mastic asphalt contents on to the road. Mastic asphalt concrete is generally laid to a thickness of around 20-30 mm for footpath and road applications and around 10 mm for flooring or roof applications.
- In addition to the asphalt and aggregate, additives, such as polymers, and antistripping agents may be added to improve the properties of the final product.
- Natural asphalt concrete can be found in some parts of the world where rock near the surface has been impregnated with upwelling asphalt.
The terms asphalt concrete, bituminous asphalt concrete, etc., are typically used only in engineering jargon. Asphalt pavements are often called just asphalt by laypersons who tend to associate the term concrete with Portland cement concrete only. The engineering definition of concrete is any composite material composed of mineral aggregate glued together with a binder, whether that binder is Portland cement, asphalt or even epoxy. Informally, asphalt concrete is also referred to as blacktop.
Asphalt concrete is often touted as being 100% recyclable. Several in-place recycling techniques have been developed to rejuvenate oxidized binders and remove cracking, although the recycled material is generally not very water-tight or smooth and should be overlaid with a new layer of asphalt concrete. Asphalt concrete that is removed from a pavement is usually stockpiled for later use as a base course material. This reclaimed material, commonly known by the acronym 'RAP' for recycled or reclaimed asphalt pavement, is crushed to a consistent gradation and added to the HMA mixing process. Very little asphalt concrete is actually disposed of in landfills. Sometimes waste materials, such as rubber from old tires, are added to asphalt concrete as is the case with rubberized asphalt, but there is a concern that the hybrid material may not be recyclable.
Asphalt deterioration can include alligator cracks, potholes, upheaval, raveling, rutting, shoving, stripping, and grade depressions.
Asphalt concrete pavements—especially those at airfields—are sometimes called tarmac for historical reasons, although they do not contain tar and are not constructed using the macadam process.
Asphalt concrete has different performance characteristics in terms of surface durability, tire wear, braking efficiency and roadway noise. Asphalt concrete generates more roadway noise than pure concrete surfacing, but is less noisy than chip seal surfaces. Tire noise effects are ampified at higher operating speeds. The sound energy is generated through rolling friction converting kinetic energy to sound waves. The idea that highway design could be influenced by acoustical engineering considerations including selection of surface paving types arose in the very early 1970s.
- ^ John Shadely, Acoustical analysis of the New Jersey Turnpike widening project between Raritan and East Brunswick, Bolt Beranek and Newman, 1973
- ^  C Michael Hogan, Analysis of Highway Noise, Journal of Soil, Air and Water Pollution, Springer Verlag Publishing, Netherlands, Vol. 2, Number 3 / September, 1973
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