Published in 2023
In recent years, several state highway agencies have introduced special provisions and specifications to allow the use of higher contents of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) in asphalt surface mixtures. The challenges associated with high RAP mixtures can be addressed through the use of additives such as recycling agents (RAs) and/or softer binders. Currently, there are no specific guidelines or specifications available to evaluate the acceptability of RAs in Virginia. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the short- and long-term effectiveness of RAs in improving the performance of asphalt mixtures, particularly those with high RAP contents. Another objective of the study was to establish a performance-based framework to determine the acceptability of a specific RA product for inclusion in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Approved Product List. Both objectives were achieved by benchmarking recycled binder blends (Phase I) and mixtures (Phase II). These were then compared in terms of laboratory performance to commonly used virgin asphalt binders and mixtures in Virginia. Moreover, a comprehensive review of the literature and information from state departments of transportation and RA suppliers on the current state of the practice regarding the use of recycled materials and RAs in asphalt mixtures was summarized.
Component materials, including three virgin asphalt binders, RAP and aggregate materials from three different sources, and six RAs, were collected and tested. Phase I involved testing virgin and RAP binders; combinations of virgin binder and RAP binder; and combination of virgin binder, RAP binder, and RAs. A total of 26 binder blends were evaluated at various aging conditions through numerous rheology- and chemistry-based tests. In Phase II, 10 asphalt mixtures were designed and evaluated for durability, resistance to rutting, and resistance to cracking at various aging conditions. Cross-scale evaluation of asphalt binder and mixture testing data was established. Finally, preliminary verification was performed using data collected from various field trials constructed in Virginia.
Based on the binders and mixtures tested in this study, the effectiveness of RAs in improving the properties of asphalt binder blends is specific to the product being used and to the targeted temperatures or conditions. Moreover, RAs can enhance the performance and increase the use of recycled materials in asphalt mixtures provided that the correct and suitable dosage of RA product is determined through a performance-based testing framework.
The study recommends the following: (1) adopting the streamlined frameworks presented in this study to determine the acceptability of a given RA; (2) further validating the presented framework using different component materials; (3) employing balanced mix design tests to assess the performance characteristics of surface mixtures (with A and D designations) with RAs and drafting a roadmap; (4) collecting and further evaluating the field performance of all trials involving high RAP, RAs, and/or softer binders; (5) investigating the availability and activity of binders, especially with RAs, in RAP materials; (6) evaluating and establishing a protocol to assess the consistency of RAP materials; and (7) quantifying the environmental and economic impacts of using surface mixtures with high RAP contents and/or RAs.
Benjamin Shane Underwood, Ph.D., Cassie Castorena, Ph.D., Jaime Preciado, Saqib Gulzar, Andrew Fried
Last updated: November 22, 2023