Present and Future Developments in Asphalt Paving Materials

The US asphalt market has been on a steady incline and seems poised to be improving into the future. With a 3% annual improvement and nearly 28 million tons being used in 2021, with about 22 million tons for paving projects, asphalt’s future looks bright. Federal highway funding improvements and general construction market expansion are the main fuel for this. But what about the next decades? Sure, there will be more asphalt in use and in construction, but what materials will actually be used?

According to the trends and the market, we can expect some important changes to the asphalt market over the next several years. Most of the trends are in the direction of sustainability and the environment. Additionally, efficiency and quality material are some other big trends of the future. Let’s take a deep look into what and how the asphalt paving market will change in the coming years.

More recycling

Asphalt paving is already one of the top recycled products in use. This trend is definitely here to stay, and poised to increase. It’s already easy and often simpler to use recycled asphalt than to bring in new asphalt for a paving project, and the recycling process will only get more efficient as technology improves. What are some other materials that will make it into the asphalt recycling process?

Recycled plastic waste

Recycled plastic is finding its way into paving. Single use plastics like water bottles, bags, are pressurized into pellets that can then be used as part of the aggregate that forms the vast majority of the body of asphalt. Aggregate is the collection of small stones and crushed rocks that typically makes up 90% or more of asphalt. It is kept together by a petroleum-based binder, a sort of glue. This poses numerous benefits, as well as a few cautionary drawbacks.

Benefits of using plastic waste include:

  • Less plastic in landfills, rivers, and the ocean.
  • Cheaper than using traditional aggregate.
  • Recycling on-location saves time, money, and emissions by obviating the need to transport pavement.
  • It’s as durable or more than traditional pavement.

What about the cons of using recycled plastic waste?

The main con is that it poses the risk of introducing microplastics to the local environment. As the recycled plastic pavement degrades and is exposed to differing temperatures, the small pellets will break down and fall apart. This process sheds microplastics, which can damage local soil and water quality. As the plastic moves through the ecology, it winds up in farmed food, animals, and people.

Fortunately, by controlling the extreme heat exposed to the recycled material, the companies who use recycled plastic road can prevent the release of microplastics.

Self healing pavement

This porous material uses inductive heating to “heal” damage that it accrues through usage. The asphalt repairs its own cracks when it is heated meaning that a lot of maintenance and care is no longer needed. The mixture uses some steel wool in the bitumen that holds the aggregate together. This reduces cracks, potholes, and graveling (loose aggregate breaking free from the surface).

The green and sustainable movement

There are quite a few ways that asphalt is going green, which we will talk more about later. But the main way for any industry to become more sustainable is to simply use less. Remember the three Rs? Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. The first one is to reduce, and that is the best way to benefit the environment, and save costs.

Buying an electric car might save in the long run on greenhouse emissions, but it’s nothing compared to not using a car at all. The same goes for industry, especially the paving industry.

Warm mix asphalt

As of now, most asphalt is either hot mix, or cold mix. Hot mix means that the asphalt must be mixed at high temperatures (surprise), and cold mix means it doesn’t have to be heated. But new technologies are allowing for warm mix asphalt. It uses a water and a chemical additive to create a mix that can be placed on roadways at lower temperatures.

Warm mix asphalt is similar to hot mix, but is uses temperatures between 212 and 275 degrees Fahrenheit. These temps require less energy and result in fewer emissions. Basically, warm mix asphalt is a way to pave like hot mix, but reducing the amount of energy and waste throughout the whole process.

Solar and geothermal paving

A lot of the roadways in the US see intense sunlight, especially in the high desert regions of the Southwest. Solar panels can be incorporated into the roadways in order to generate passive electricity from miles and miles of empty highway.

Geothermal technology can be added to the bottom layer of the paving in many places — including those without constant sunlight, to generate passive electricity as well.

Ultra smooth roads

Less gravelly, smoother roads are a benefit as well. The smooth roadways produce much less noise pollution and have less friction. This results in higher fuel-efficiency for the vehicles on them.

Efficiency, sustainability, and improvement

The road to improvement is paved by progress. The above mentioned technologies are already in-use in various places across the world, and they will no doubt see continued and expanded demand.

Here are some other technologies still in the works, but not used yet.

  • Bio-bitumen (binder) made from household waste, paper, textiles, and other organic material.
  • Bio-asphalt made from plant cells (lignin) as the bitumen. Lignin is a by-product of the paper industry, so this technology doubly reduces waste from one industry and reduces demand from paving.

Whatever new tech come our way, Reliable Paving will be on top of it. We are a team of paving contractors who keep on top of the newest trends, most efficient methods, and the best ways to render service to our customers. We aim to provide the best paving services available, while minimizing environmental impact and striving for utmost efficiency. Message us today to find out about our methods, and how we can sustainably work on your paving project.