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Construction aggregate

      Construction aggregate, or simply "aggregate", is a broad category of coarse particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, and recycled concrete. Aggregates are a component of composite materials such as concrete and asphalt concrete; the aggregate serves as reinforcement to add strength to the overall composite material. Aggregates are also used as base material under foundations, roads, and railroads. To put it another way, aggregates are used as a stable foundation or road/rail base with predictable, uniform properties (e.g. to help prevent differential settling under the road or building), or as a low-cost extender that binds with more expensive cement or asphalt to form concrete.

The American Society for Testing and Materials publishes an exhaustive listing of specifications for various construction aggregate products, which, by their individual design, are suitable for specific construction purposes. These products include specific types of coarse and fine aggregate designed for such uses as additives to asphalt and concrete mixes, as well as other construction uses. State transportation departments further refine aggregate material specifications in order to tailor aggregate use to the needs and available supply in their particular locations.

Sources for these basic materials can be grouped into three main areas: Mining of mineral aggregate deposits, including sand, gravel, and stone; use of waste slag from the manufacture of iron and steel; and recycling of concrete, which is itself chiefly manufactured from mineral aggregates. In addition, there are some (minor) materials that are used as specialty lightweight aggregates: clay, pumice, perlite, and vermiculite.



Mankind has used sand and stone for foundations for thousands of years. Significant refinement of the production and use of aggregate occurred during the Roman Empire, which used aggregate to build its vast network of roads and aqueducts. The invention of concrete, which was essential to architecture utilizing arches, created an immediate, permanent demand for construction aggregates.--

Modern production

The advent of modern blasting methods enabled the development of quarries, which are now used throughout the world, wherever competent bedrock deposits of aggregate quality exist. In many places, good limestone, granite, marble or other quality stone bedrock deposits do not exist. In these areas, natural sand and gravel are mined for use as aggregate. Where neither stone, nor sand and gravel, are available, construction demand is usually satisfied by shipping in aggregate by rail, barge or truck. Additionally, demand for aggregates can be partially satisfied through the use of slag and recycled concrete. However, the available tonnages and lesser quality of these materials prevent them from being a viable replacement for mined aggregates on a large scale.

  Large stone quarry and sand and gravel operations exist near virtually all population centers. These are capital-intensive operations, utilizing large earth-moving equipment, belt conveyors, and machines specifically designed for crushing and separating various sizes of aggregate, to create distinct product stockpiles.

Aggregate is needed for any kind of construction. Mineral aggregates will be used in ever-increasing quantities as long as economies remain stable. Roads, including these used to transport aggregate, require continual maintenance and rebuilding. Homes, offices, warehouses, shopping centers, and workplaces all require foundations composed of aggregate, as well as concrete footers, asphalt parking lots, manufactured bricks, blocks and poured walls. Corporations which specialize in mining and processing aggregates are likely to grow and consolidate. In fact, the purchase of small aggregate companies by large, global corporations is the dominant trend in the industry. As less-developed countries build their infrastructure, the worldwide demand for construction aggregates will continue to grow. This demand will increasingly be met by global aggregate companies such as Hanson Aggregates, Polaris Minerals, Martin Marietta Aggregates, Vulcan Materials Company, Lafarge, Oldcastle, Cemex, Samscreen and Perforated Screen Surfaces, Inc (PSSI).

According to the USGS, 2005 U.S. crushed stone production was 1.69 billion tonnes valued at $12.1 billion, of which limestone was 1,090 million tonnes valued at $7.49 billion from 1,904 quarries, granite was 263 million tonnes valued at $2.16 billion from 339 quarries, traprock was 130 million tonnes valued at $1.04 billion from 348 quarries, and the balance other kinds of stone from 597 quarries. Limestone and granite are also produced in large amounts as dimension stone. The great majority of the crushed stone moved by heavy truck from the quarry/plant to the first point of sale or use. According to the USGS, 2005 U.S. sand and gravel production was 1.27 billion tonnes valued at $7.46 billion, of which 294 million tonnes valued at $1.98 billion was used as concrete aggregates. The great majority of this was again moved by truck, instead of by electric train.

Currently, total U.S. aggregate demand by final market sector was 30%-35% for non-residential building (offices, hotels, stores, manufacturing plants, government and institutional buildings, and others), 25% for highways, and 25% for housing.

Recycled materials for aggregates

The largest-volume recycled material used as construction aggregate is blast furnace and steel furnace slag. Blast furnace slag is either air-cooled (slow cooling in the open) or granulated (formed by quenching molten slag in water to form sand-sized glasslike particles). If the granulated blast furnace slag accesses free lime during hydration, it develops strong hydraulic cementitious properties and can partly substitute for portland cement in concrete. Steel furnace slag is also air-cooled. In 2005, according to the USGS, air-cooled blast furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 8.4 million tonnes valued at $56 million, granulated blast furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 4.5 million tonnes valued at $277 million, and steel furnace slag sold or used in the U.S. was 8.7 million tonnes valued at $39 million. Air-cooled blast furnace slag sales were for use in road bases and surfaces (34%), asphaltic concrete (17%), ready-mixed concrete (16%), and the balance for other uses. Granulated blast furnace slag sales were for use in cementitious materials (91%), and the balance for other uses. Steel furnace slag sales were for use in road bases and surfaces (53%), asphaltic concrete (16%), for fill (11%), and the balance for other uses.

Aggregates themselves can be recycled as aggregates. Unlike deposits of sand and gravel or stone suitable for crushing into aggregate, which can be anywhere and may require overburden removal and/or blasting, "deposits" of recyclable aggregate tend to be concentrated near urban areas, and production from them cannot be raised or lowered to meet demand for aggregates. Supply of recycled aggregate depends on physical decay of structures and their demolition. The recycling plant can be fixed or mobile; the smaller capacity mobile plant works best for asphalt-aggregate recycling. The material being recycled is usually highly variable in quality and properties.

According to the USGS in 2005, 3.9 million tonnes of portland cement concrete (including aggregate) worth $29.4 million was recycled, and 1.9 million tonnes of asphalt concrete (including aggregate) worth $17.7 million was recycled, both by crushed stone operations. Much much more of both materials are recycled by construction and demolition firms not in the USGS survey. For sand and gravel, the USGS survey for 2005 showed that 4.6 million tonnes of cement concrete valued at $27.0 million was recycled, and 3.75 million tonnes of asphalt concrete valued at $23.7 million was recycled. Again, much much more of both materials are recycled by construction and demolition firms not in this USGS survey. The Construction Materials Recycling Association indicates that there are 325 million tonnes of recoverable construction and demolition materials produced annually.

See also


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Construction_aggregate". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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