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KANDHAL KEYNOTE NUMBER 1
PAVING BITUMEN FOR
BITUMINOUS ROAD CONSTRUCTION IN INDIA
Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal
Associate Director Emeritus
National Center for Asphalt Technology
Auburn University, Alabama USA
Paving bitumen is the most expensive and the most important (adhesive) ingredient in
bituminous road construction. Therefore, it is important to use it appropriately to
realize its full potential. An attempt has been made in this Kandhal Keynote Number
1 to increase the understanding of paving bitumen by practicing highway engineers in
The technical note describes the following: historical background of bitumen; bitumen
refining; bitumen physical tests; bitumen grading system; selection of bitumen for
India; modified bitumen binders; cutback bitumen; emulsified bitumen; and bitumen
spraying applications such as prime coat, tack coat and fog seal.
Both asphaltic bitumen (simply called bitumen in India) and tar are considered
bituminous materials. Due to misconception both terms: bitumen and tar are used
interchangeably because they are black and have similar application. However,
bitumen and tar are two distinctly different materials with different origins and
different chemical and physical properties. Bitumen either occurs naturally or is
produced from petroleum crude by refining. Tar is manufactured from destructive
distillation of bituminous coal (that is why also called coal tar) and has a very distinct
smell. Coal tar is hardly used in paving at the present time because it becomes brittle
at low temperatures and it poses health hazards to workers when exposed to its fumes
Bitumen is mankind’s oldest engineering materials because of its waterproofing and
adhesive properties. Naturally occurring bitumen was used in Sumeria about 6000 BC
in its shipbuilding industry. About 3000 BC, ancient Indus Valley Civilization used
bitumen in construction of large public baths or tanks by placing a 25-mm thick layer
of bitumen between courses of baked bricks to ensure waterproofing. Egyptians also
used bitumen not only for waterproofing but also in mummification as early as 2600
Commercial types of bitumen can be classified into two categories depending on their
(a) Natural bitumen: These bitumen binders occur naturally in veins of rock
formations such as limestones or sandstones. They are either soft or hard, friable
black material. The hard variety such as Gilsonite is black and brittle and mostly
mined in the state of Utah in the United States.
The relatively soft bitumen binder, similar to heavy petroleum occurs in the Trinidad
Lake deposit on the island of Trinidad and in the extensive “tar sands” throughout
western Canada. As bitumen is removed from the Trinidad Lake, pressure deep in the
earth forces more bitumen to the surface; as though nature has its own refining
process. Trinidad Lake bitumen has about 50 to 57 percent bitumen; rest is volcanic
ash and organic matter. It is hard and has a very low penetration of 3 to 10.
(b) Petroleum bitumen: These are obtained by refining petroleum crude. After
refining process was developed in the early 1900s in the US and petrol (gasoline) was
needed for automobiles, large amounts of petroleum bitumen were available as a
byproduct of the refining process. This made the natural bitumen rather unimportant.
Almost all paving bitumen used today in India is obtained by processing petroleum
crude oils. Over 75 percent of petroleum crude oil used at the present time (2014) in
India is imported from foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria,
Libya and Russia. Petroleum crude oil is presently available in India in the following
regions: Assam; Cambay (Khambhat), Gujarat; KG Basin in Andhra Pradesh (both
onshore and offshore); Cauvery, Tamilnadu; Barmer, Rajasthan; and Bombay High
(offshore) in Maharashtra. Domestic refineries in India produce paving bitumen from
imported as well local petroleum crude.
Straight reduction through primary distillation is usually the first step in the refining
of crude petroleum. Figure 1 shows the distillation principle which is used in the
atmospheric tower to separate various crude fractions which have different boiling
The crude oil is heated to about 343 C (650 F) in a large furnace to vaporize it
partially. When it is introduced in the atmospheric distillation tower the relatively
lighter components of petroleum crude rise to the top, cool, condense and are drawn
off on trays inside the tower (1). For example, petrol (gasoline) goes to the top and is
drawn off. The mid-tower or intermediate fractions are drawn off at lower levels and
are treated, if necessary, to make jet fuels, kerosene and diesel. Further down waxes,
lubricating oils and greases can also be recovered.
The bottom material (residuum) in the primary distillation tower is usually heated and
introduced in a vacuum distillation tower wherein heavy gas oils are produced and the
resulting residuum at the bottom is generally paving bitumen. The advantage of
Figure 1. Schematic of crude distillation in refinery (courtesy NAPA REF)
applying vacuum (sometimes steam is also used) is that bitumen can be obtained at
relatively lower temperatures. At very high temperatures, bitumen can get cracked
(molecules are thermally broken apart) resulting in poor quality. The bottom fraction
from the second tower is called vacuum processed and steam refined bitumen. The
penetration or viscosity grade of bitumen can be controlled by the amount of heavy
gas oil removed (1).
There are other refining processes to produce paving bitumen of desired grades and
characteristics. Examples are: solvent deasphalting; residuum oil supercritical
extraction (ROSE); and air blowing. These are discussed in detail in Reference 1. All
these processes including air blowing (oxidation) should be permitted in refineries
only because stringent process and quality controls besides safety precautions are
required. Paving contractors or unqualified suppliers should not be permitted to use
air blowing to increase the viscosity of paving bitumen. Since the process of air
blowing (oxidation) is exothermic and therefore produces heat, refineries have a
suitable system in place to cool the product to storage temperature by recovering the
energy from the reaction. All this can be done as a controlled process in refineries
only which have sophisticated plants such as Biturox (costing over 20 crores rupees).
Environmental considerations also require the gases from the air blowing operation to
be sent to a scrubber and/or incinerator.
Clause 4 of IS:73-2013 Paving bitumen - Specification (for viscosity graded bitumen)
clearly states, “Bitumen shall be prepared by the refining of crude petroleum by
suitable methods”. Therefore, all viscosity graded (VG) bitumen should be supplied
by refineries only.
Refined paving bitumen is widely used across the world in constructing roads, airfield
runways, parking lots, car race courses, railway tracks and for lining water reservoirs.
In the US, terms such as “asphalt cement” or “asphalt” are used in lieu of bitumen.
PAVING BITUMEN PHYSICAL TESTS
Bureau of Indian Standards IS: 73 Paving Bitumen - Specification is used in India for
specifying paving bitumen. This standard gives the required physical tests and
respective specified test values.
Physical testing of paving bitumen can be categorized as follows (1):
1. Consistency tests
2. Aging tests
3. Purity tests
4. Safety tests
5. Other tests
Consistency describes the degree of fluidity of bitumen at any particular temperature.
Bitumen is a thermoplastic material, that is, its consistency varies with the
temperature. Therefore, if comparison of different bitumen binders is to be made, it is
necessary to measure their consistency at the same temperature and shear loading
conditions. The following consistency tests are performed on paving bitumen:
Absolute Viscosity at 60 C. Viscosity can simply be defined as resistance to flow of
a fluid. Viscosity grading of paving bitumen is based on viscosity measurement at 60
C. This temperature was selected because it approximates the maximum bituminous
pavement surface temperature during summer.
A capillary tube viscometer is used to perform the viscosity test at 60 C. The
Cannon-Manning vacuum viscometer (Figure 2) is most commonly used. ASTM
D2171 and IS: 1206 (Part 2) test methods describe the test procedures.
Figure 2. Cannon-Manning Vacuum Viscometer Tube (Courtesy NAPA REF)
Figure 3. Vacuum Viscometer Testing Equipment (Courtesy NCAT)
The viscometer is mounted in a thermostatically controlled, constant temperature
water or oil bath which is maintained at 60 C. Heated, liquid bitumen is poured into
the larger side of the viscometer until it reaches the filling line. After the filled
viscometer is kept in the bath for a prescribed period of time to obtain the equilibrium
temperature of 60 C, a specified partial vacuum is applied to the small side of the
viscometer to cause the bitumen to flow. Application of partial vacuum is necessary
because the bitumen is too viscous to flow at this temperature. A vacuum control
device and a vacuum pump are needed as part of the testing equipment (Figure 3).
After the bitumen starts to flow, the time (in seconds) required for it to flow between
two timing marks is measured. The measured time (in seconds) is multiplied by the
calibration factor for the viscometer tube to obtain the value for viscosity in poises,
which is the standard unit for measuring absolute viscosity. Manufacturers calibrate
their viscometers with standard oils and furnish the calibration factor with each
viscosity tube (1). At the present time (2014), the Cannon-Manning viscometer tube
has to be imported in India.
A step-by-step pictorial guide prepared by the author for measuring absolute viscosity
can be downloaded at the following link on the internet:
Only vacuum tube viscometers with specified partial vacuum level (that is specified
shear stress) can be used to measure absolute viscosity at 60 C. Rotational viscometer
such as Brookfield cannot be used. In a non-Newtonian fluid such as bitumen below
100 C the relation between the shear stress and strain rate is nonlinear, and can even
be time dependent. Therefore, viscosity has to be measured at a specified shear stress
All government highway agencies and contractors must conduct this test to ensure
whether appropriate viscosity grade of paving bitumen is being supplied or not. For
example, it is quite possible that the bitumen supplier may be supplying softer VG-10
or VG-20 grade in lieu of VG-30. Softer grade may cause bleeding and/or rutting in
Kinematic Viscosity at 135 C. ASTM D2170 or IS: 1206 (Part 3) is used to measure
the kinematic viscosity at 135 C using the Zeitfuchs Cross-Arm viscometer (Figure
4). At this temperature the bitumen is sufficiently fluid to flow through the capillary
tube under gravitational forces alone, and there is no need to apply any partial
vacuum. This temperature was selected because it approximates the mixing and
laydown temperatures used in the construction of bituminous pavements.
Figure 4. Zeitfuchs Cross Arm Viscometer (courtesy NAPA REF)
After bitumen is poured into the large opening of the viscometer until it reaches the
filling line, the viscometer is placed in a clear oil bath to obtain the equilibrium test
temperature. A slight vacuum is applied to the small opening or a slight pressure is
applied to the large opening to induce the flow of the bitumen over the siphon section
just above the filling line. Then the gravitational forces cause the bitumen to flow
downward in the vertical section of the capillary tube. A stopwatch is used to
measure the time (in seconds) taken by the bitumen to flow between the two timing
marks. The kinematic viscosity in centistokes is obtained by multiplying this time by
the calibration factor supplied with the viscometer tube. The unit of centistokes is
used in kinematic viscosity at 135 C because gravitational forces induce flow and the
density of the material affects the rate of flow (1).
Rotational viscometer such as Brookfield viscometer can also be used to determine
bitumen viscosity at 135 C. This viscometer has also been included in the Superpave
binder testing system to measure viscosity at high construction temperatures. Most
bitumen binders behave as Newtonian fluids (stress response not dependent on shear
rate) above 100 C. Therefore, any viscometer such as Zeitfuchs and Brookfield based
on fundamental principles would yield identical test values. ASTM D 4402 describes
the detailed testing procedure for rotational viscometer.
The rotational viscometer is better suited for testing modified bitumen binders (such
as crumb rubber modified bitumen) compared to capillary viscometer because the
latter’s narrow capillaries can get clogged up preventing smooth flow. Figure 5 gives
the principle of rotational viscometer. The sample chamber is filled with heated
bitumen binder and brought to the testing temperature in a thermo-container. A
spindle is then suspended in the binder. Torque is applied to the spindle through the
viscometer motor to make it to rotate at a constant speed of 20 RPM. The measured
torque is directly related to the viscosity of the bitumen binder. The rotational
viscometer displays the viscosity value as a digital readout. Figure 6 shows the
complete equipment of the Brookfield viscometer.
Figure 5. Principle of Rotational Viscometer (courtesy NAPE REF)
Figure 6. Brookfield Viscometer complete equipment (courtesy NCAT)
Depending on the viscosity range of the bitumen, different sizes of spindle are used.
Spindle Numbers 21 and 27 are used most frequently in bitumen binder testing.
Penetration. The penetration test is an empirical test used to measure the consistency
of bitumen. Usually penetration is measured at 25 C which also approximates
average service temperature of the bituminous pavements during the year. At this
temperature no simple test method is currently available to measure the consistency of
bitumen in terms of viscosity or visco-elasticity, which is desirable form of
measurement. The schematic of standard penetration test is shown in Figure 7. Figure
8 shows the complete test set up. A container of bitumen is brought to the standard
test temperature (usually 25 C) in a thermostatically-controlled water bath. The
sample is placed under a needle of prescribed dimensions. The needle is loaded with
a 100-g weight and is allowed to penetrate the bitumen sample for 5 seconds. The
depth of penetration is measured in units of 0.1 mm (dmm) and is reported as
penetration units. For example, if the needle penetrates 6 mm, the penetration of
bitumen is 60.
Figure 7. Schematic of Penetration Test (courtesy NAPA REF)
Figure 8. Complete Set Up of Penetration Test (courtesy NCAT)
The penetration test is run in accordance with ASTM D 5 or IS: 1203. The test can
also be run at other temperatures such as 4 C. However, the needle load or
penetration time or both are then varied. At low temperatures such as 4 C, the
bitumen is very stiff and therefore penetration of the needle is significantly lower if it
is loaded with a 100-g weight and is allowed to penetrate for 5 seconds only. At these
temperatures, a 200 g weight and 60 seconds penetration time have been used to
obtain reasonably high penetration values (1) as per ASTM D 5.
Softening Point. Softening point is an empirical test like the penetration test. It is
measured by ring and ball (R & B) method in accordance with ASTM D 36 or IS:
1205. It can simply be defined as the temperature at which bitumen cannot support
the weight of a steel ball and starts flowing. Its purpose is to determine the
temperature at which a phase change (semi solid to semi liquid) occurs in the
Figure 9 shows the test set up for determining softening point. The test consists of
taking a brass ring filled with bitumen and suspending it in a beaker filled with water
or ethylene glycol. A steel ball of specified dimensions and weight is placed in the
center of the sample. The bath is heated at a controlled rate of 5
C/minute. When the
bitumen softens, the ball and bitumen sink toward the bottom of the beaker. The
temperature is recorded at the instant when the softened bitumen sinks the prescribed
distance and touches the bottom plate (1).
Figure 9. Softening Point Test (courtesy NAPA REF)
Bitumen undergoes substantial short-term aging (hardening) when it is mixed with hot
mineral aggregates in a hot mix asphalt mixing plant. This is because the bitumen
present in very thin film around the hot aggregate is exposed to high heat in the
mixing pug mill or drum. This results in loss of heavy volatiles from the bitumen
thereby increasing its viscosity significantly during mixing. Indian paving bitumen
specifications (IS:73 – 2013) do not allow increase in viscosity of more than four
times (that means viscosity ratio should not exceed 4). If the viscosity ratio is more
than 4 the paving bitumen may not be durable in service. In other words it may
oxidize and harden prematurely.
After the bituminous pavement is constructed, long-term aging of the bitumen
continues during the service life of the pavement which is subjected to environmental
and other factors. Standard test method (Pressure Aging Vessel) is available in the
Superpave Binder System to approximate the long-term aging of bitumen. However,
the following two tests are generally used to approximate the short-term hardening
conditions which occur in normal asphalt mixing plants:
Thin Film Oven Test. The thin film oven (TFO) test is conducted by placing a 50 g
sample of bitumen in a cylindrical flat-bottom pan (5.5 inches inside diameter and 3/8
inch deep). The bitumen layer in the pan is about 1/8 inch deep. The pan containing
the bitumen sample is transferred to a shelf in a ventilated oven maintained at 163 C
F) (Figure 10). The shelf rotates at 5 to 6 revolutions per minute. The sample is
kept in the oven for 5 hours, and then transferred to a suitable container for measuring
penetration or viscosity of the aged bitumen. The test method is described in ASTM
D1754 or IS: 9382. The aged bitumen is usually required to meet specified maximum
viscosity ratio at 60 C which is four in case of IS:73 – 2013. A loss or gain in weight
of the test sample is also measured and reported (1).
Figure 10. Thin Film Oven Test (courtesy NAPA REF)
Rolling Thin Film Oven Test. A variation of the thin film oven test is in use by
some agencies in the western United States, although it has the same purpose. It is
also specified in the Superpave Asphalt System. Figure 11 shows the rolling thin film
oven (RTFO) used in ASTM D 2872. A specified amount of bitumen is poured into a
bottle, which is placed in a rack in the oven maintained at 163 C (325
F). The rack
rotates at a prescribed rate around a horizontal axis. The rotating bottle continuously
exposes thin film of fresh bitumen. The orifice of the sample bottle passes in front of
an air jet during each rotation. The vapors accumulated in the sample bottle are
purged by the heated air from the jet.
The RTFO achieves about the same degree of hardening (aging) as the TFO but in
less time (only 75 minutes). Also, it can accommodate a larger number of samples
than the TFO. RTFO is preferred over TFO when testing modified bitumen binders
because of its rotating/mixing action which avoids skin formation in the test sample
which is likely in TFO test. When setting up a new bitumen testing laboratory, it is
recommended to purchase RTFO test equipment rather than TFO test equipment.
Figure 11. Rolling Thin Film Oven Test (courtesy NCAT)
Refined bitumen is almost pure bitumen which, by definition, is entirely soluble in
carbon disulfide or trichloroethylene. Only very little amounts of impurities are
generally present in the refined bitumen. To determine the purity of bitumen, a
solubility test (ASTM D2042 or IS: 1216) is conducted. A bitumen sample of known
weight is dissolved in trichloroethylene (rather than carbon disulfide which is
flammable and presents a safety hazard), and is then filtered through a glass fiber pad.
The insoluble material retained on the pad is washed, dried and weighed. The
insoluble material constitutes the impurity in the bitumen sample. Specifications for
paving bitumen generally require a minimum of 99.0 percent solubility in
trichloroethylene. It is also desirable that the bitumen is free of water or moisture
because it can cause the bitumen to foam when it is heated above 100 C (1).
All government agencies and contractors must conduct this simple test as a routine at
the time of delivery of the paving bitumen to detect deliberate adulteration of bitumen
(sometimes with marble slurry or like) by scrupulous transporters. Adulterated
bitumen is not only of poor quality but it also results in lower bitumen content in
If bitumen is heated to a high enough temperature, it gives off enough vapor that it
will flash (ignite) in the presence of a spark or open flame. Flash point indicates the
temperature to which bitumen may be safely heated without the danger of
instantaneous flash in the presence of an open flame. This temperature is below that
of the fire point, which is the temperature where a material combusts. Although the
flash point of paving bitumen is well above the temperatures normally used in asphalt
mix production, it is necessary to measure and control it for safety considerations.
The Cleveland Open Cup method (ASTM D92 or IS: 1448) is generally used for
determining the flash point of paving bitumen (Figure 12). A brass cup partially filled
with bitumen is heated at a prescribed rate. A small flame is passed over the surface
of the cup periodically. The temperature at which sufficient vapors are released to
produce an instantaneous flash of flame is reported as the flash point (1).
Flash point can also be used to detect presence of some volatiles such as kerosene in
the bitumen which may have resulted from switching transport tankers. In such cases
measured flash point would be significantly lower than the usual flash point.
Figure 12. Cleveland Open Cup Method for Flash Point (courtesy NCAT)
Ductility Test. Many asphalt paving technologists consider ductility as an important
property of bitumen which affects the performance of asphalt pavement especially its
cracking (2). The ductility test, run in accordance with ASTM D 113 or IS: 1208,
measures the distance in centimeters that a standard briquette of bitumen will stretch
before breaking (Figure 13). The cross section of the briquette at its smaller
Figure 13. Ductility Test (courtesy NCAT)
dimension is one square centimeter. The bitumen test sample is brought to the test
temperature in a water bath which is maintained at the standard temperature of 25 C.
The two ends of the sample are separated at the rate of 5 cm/minute until rupture. The
water must be at the same specific gravity as the bitumen to prevent floating or
sinking of the stretched sample. Salt is added to increase the specific gravity, and
alcohol is added to decrease the specific gravity of the water. Some engineers believe
in running the ductility test at lower temperatures such as 15 C and 4 C rather than 25
C. The pulling rate is usually lowered to 1 cm/minute when the test is run at 4 C to
allow for more stretching prior to break (1). It is preferred to conduct ductility test on
TFO or RTFO bitumen residue rather than original bitumen because the former
represents the bitumen which actually goes in the road at time of construction on day
one of its service life. Excessive air blowing of paving bitumen by scrupulous
suppliers usually decreases its ductility thereby affecting its durability in service.
Specific Gravity. Specific gravity is defined as the ratio of the mass of the material
at a given temperature to the mass of an equal volume of water at the same
temperature. Specific gravity of the bitumen changes when the bitumen expands on
heating. Therefore, specific gravity determinations are useful in making temperature-
volume corrections or determining the weight per unit volume of bitumen heated to its
The pycnometer method is used to determine the specific gravity of bitumen (ASTM
D 70 or IS: 1202). Since the specific gravity varies with the temperature, test results
are expressed in terms of specific gravity at a given temperature for both the bitumen
and the water used in the test. Specific gravity of paving bitumen at 25 C is used in
hot mix asphalt mix design.
Spot Test. The purpose of the spot test (AASHTO T 102) is to determine whether
bitumen has been damaged during processing due to overheating, resulting in
cracking. In cracking, the molecules are thermally broken apart. According to some
engineers, the bitumen thus produced is inferior, is less ductile, and is more
susceptible to weathering or aging. Since cracking is not likely to occur in modern
refining practices, the spot test is usually not a requirement in the specifications and is
The spot test is a crude form of paper chromatography in that it involves a visual
evaluation of a spot of bitumen dissolved in a standard solvent (such as naphtha). A
drop of the asphalt/solvent mixture is placed on a special filter paper and the results
observed visually. If the spot formed is a uniformly brown stain, the test is reported
as negative and the bitumen is acceptable. However, if the spot shows a darker area at
the center, the test is reported as positive and will disqualify the bitumen (1).
BITUMEN GRADING SYSTEM
India has adopted a viscosity grading system for paving bitumen. The Bureau of
Indian Standards issued IS: 73 - 2006 Paving Bitumen – Specification (Third
Revision) in July 2006, which specified paving bitumen by viscosity at 60 C rather
than the older system of grading paving bitumen by penetration at 25 C (3).
Before giving an overview of the new system, it will be prudent to review the history
of grading bitumen over the last 130 years. This review will assist us in knowing how
far we have come and where we should be going in the long term so far as grading
and selecting bitumen are concerned.
History of Grading Bitumen
Bitumen is a thermoplastic material, that is, its stiffness is dependent on its
temperature as shown in Figure 14. Its stiffness decreases as its temperature is
increased. This temperature versus stiffness relationship is different for different
bitumen binders based on the origin of the petroleum crude and/or method of refining.
This is quite evident in Figure 14 wherein Bitumen A and B have different
Therefore, it is obvious we should define a test temperature at which the grading will
be done and bitumen binders compared. If we compare Bitumen A and B, Bitumen B
is stiffer than Bitumen A at 25 C whereas the situation is reversed at 60 C. Although
the stiffness of bitumen at very low temperatures is also important to resist thermal
cracking, Figure 14 shows three temperatures at which the stiffness of bitumen has
significance as follows:
Stiffness at 135 C: The temperature of 135 C is near the temperatures used for
mixing and compacting asphalt mixtures during construction. At this temperature
bitumen is thin like motor oil so that it can be mixed with aggregate easily. It is useful
to determine the stiffness (measured in terms of kinematic viscosity) of the bitumen to
establish proper mixing and compaction temperatures for asphalt mixtures.
Stiffness at 60 C: The temperature of 60 C is near the maximum bituminous
pavement temperature on a hot summer day, when rutting is likely to occur as shown
in Figure 15. It is useful to determine the stiffness (in terms of viscosity) of the
bitumen at 60 C so that we can specify its minimum stiffness to ensure adequate
resistance to rutting during hot summer. Rutting of asphalt pavements is the most
prevalent problem in the world including India.
Figure 14. Temperature versus stiffness relationships of different bitumen
Figure 15. Rutting occurs at maximum pavement temperatures during summer
Figure 16. Fatigue cracking may occur after bitumen has aged in service
Stiffness at 25 C: The temperature of 25 C is near the average annual temperature of
an asphalt pavement during a year. It is useful to determine the stiffness (in terms of
penetration) of the bitumen at 25 C so that we can specify its maximum stiffness
(minimum penetration) to resist pavement ravelling and/or fatigue cracking (Figure
16) resulting from aged/brittle bitumen after 5-10 years in service. Unlike rutting
which may occur right after construction, ravelling/fatigue cracking usually occurs
after 5-10 years in service, especially if the pavement is structurally inadequate.
Grading by Chewing. Prior to the development of the penetration test, chewing in
mouth was the first mode of testing to determine stiffness (hardness) of bitumen
during the late 19
century. Experienced bitumen inspectors in the US used the
technique for testing and accepting bitumen for paving. Obviously, the test
temperature was 98.6 F (37 C) equal to the average human body temperature.
Penetration Grading. Grading of bitumen by penetration test at 25 C was adopted by
the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Committee D04 on Road
and Paving Materials in 1903, about 110 years ago. As mentioned earlier under
physical tests, in the penetration test a needle loaded with 100 grams is allowed to
penetrate the bitumen maintained at 25 C temperature in a water bath, for 5 seconds.
The resulting penetration is measured in mm; 1 penetration unit = 0.1 mm. The
greater the penetration, the softer is the bitumen. ASTM Standard D 946 specified
five penetration grades for bitumen binders:
40-50 (hardest bitumen grade)
200-300 (softest bitumen grade)
Prior to 2006, the 100-year old penetration grading system was used in India with 60-
70 penetration grade being most widely used. The softer 80-100 penetration grade has
been used for low-volume roads and spray applications (such as in surface dressing)
The penetration grading system has the following disadvantages (1):
1. It is based on an empirical test and not on a fundamental test.
2. It cannot be used effectively for polymer-modified bitumen.
3. Similitude at 25 C is very deceptive to performance at higher and lower
service temperatures. This is evident in Figure 17 wherein three 60-70 grade
Bitumen Binders A, B, and C have the same penetration of 65 but different
stiffness values at higher (say 60 C) and lower (say 0 C) service temperatures.
For example, Bitumen C is more prone to rutting compared to Bitumen B and
Bitumen A, since its stiffness (viscosity) at 60 C is lower.
Figure 17. Three 60-70 penetration grade bitumen binders with different
stiffnesses at high and low service temperatures
4. No bitumen viscosity is available near asphalt mixing and compaction
temperatures for the guidance of contractors.
5. Penetration grading does not control the temperature-susceptibility (slope of
temperature versus stiffness line) of bitumen binders. Highly temperature
susceptible bitumen binders (with steep slopes) are not desirable because they
are very soft at high service temperatures and very stiff at low service
Viscosity Grading. Viscosity grading at 60 C was introduced in the Unites States
during 1970s to address construction problems (tender mixes which could not be
rolled without the mix pushing and shoving under the roller) and high temperature
performance (rutting during hot summer) as mentioned earlier. The 60-70 penetration
grade bitumen most widely used in the US prior to 1970s was significantly variable in
terms of resistance to rutting. Some 60-70 penetration bitumen binders also had very
low viscosity at 135 C, which caused tender mix problems (pushing and shoving of
the mix under the roller) during construction. Viscosity grading is based on a
fundamental, scientific viscosity test, which is conducted at 60 C (near the maximum
pavement temperature during summer) and its measurement unit is poise.
The test equipment for measuring viscosity both at 60 C and 135 C is simple and is
already available in most bitumen testing laboratories in India.
Six asphalt cement (AC) viscosity grades were established in the US as follows:
GRADE VISCOSITY at 60 C, poises
AC-2.5 (softest) 250 +/- 50
AC-5 500 +/- 100
AC-10 1000 +/- 200
AC-20 2000 +/- 400
AC-30 3000 +/- 600
AC-40 (hardest) 4000 +/- 800
Bitumen is called “asphalt cement” or just “asphalt” in the United States. Low
viscosity grades such as AC-2.5 and AC-5 were used in cold climate of Canada. AC-
10 was used in the northern tier states of the US, AC-20 was used in most of the US,
and high viscosity AC-30 was used in southern states such as Florida, Georgia, and
Alabama with hot climate and rainfall similar to that of India.
Figure 18 depicts the graphical representation of viscosity graded AC-30 bitumen
(equivalent to VG-30 in India). The following advantages resulted from adopting the
viscosity grading system for bitumen:
1. Unlike penetration grades, same viscosity grade bitumen binders gave similar
rutting performance in hot summer.
2. Minimum penetration values were retained in the viscosity grading system to
maintain acceptable performance (in terms of resistance to fatigue cracking) at
yearly average service temperature of 25 C.
3. Minimum specified values of kinematic viscosity at 135 C helped minimize
the potential of tender mixes during construction.
4. Minimum specified penetration at 25 C and minimum specified kinematic
viscosity at 135 C established the maximum allowable temperature
susceptibility (slope of temperature versus stiffness line).
5. Viscosity graded bitumen binders were suitable for a wide range of
temperatures: 25 C for ravelling/fatigue cracking; 60 C for rutting; and 135 C
6. Since the viscosity values are measured at two temperatures, bitumen
suppliers could provide to the users rational and accurate asphalt mixing and
compaction temperatures (corresponding to bitumen viscosity of 170 and 280
Superpave Performance Grading. The viscosity grading system gave excellent
performance results in the US for over 20 years. However, the viscosity grading
system, although more rational than the penetration grading system, was still based on
experience. A 50-million dollar, 5-year Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP)
was undertaken from 1987 to 1992 to develop a performance based grading system
for bitumen, which was based on engineering principles to address common asphalt
Figure 18. Graphical representation of viscosity-graded AC-30 (VG-30) bitumen
pavement distress problems. The so-called Superpave performance grading system
includes new bitumen tests and specifications with the following salient features
1. Tests and specifications are intended for bitumen “binders”, which include
both modified and unmodified bitumen.
2. The physical properties measured by Superpave bitumen tests are directly
related to field performance by engineering principles rather than just the
3. A long-term bitumen aging test, which simulates aging of bitumen during 5-10
years in service, was developed and included for the first time.
4. Tests and specifications are designed to eliminate or minimize three specific
types of asphalt pavement distresses: rutting, fatigue cracking, and thermal
cracking. Rutting typically occurs at high temperatures, fatigue cracking at
intermediate temperatures, and thermal cracking at low temperatures.
5. As shown in Figure 19, the entire range of pavement temperatures experienced
at the project site is considered. New testing equipments were
developed/adopted for testing bitumen for this purpose. A rotational
viscometer is used to measure the bitumen viscosity at 135 C. A dynamic
shear rheometer (DSR) is used to measure the viscoelastic properties of the
bitumen at two temperatures: high temperature corresponding to the maximum
7-day pavement temperature during summer at the project site, and
intermediate temperature corresponding to the average annual temperature of
the pavement at the project site. A bending beam rheometer and a direct
tension tester are used to measure the rheological properties of the bitumen at
the lowest pavement temperature during winter at the project site.
Figure 19. Superpave performance grade bitumen testing is conducted over the
entire range of temperatures experienced at the project site
The Superpave performance grade (PG) bitumen is based on climate. For example,
PG 64-22 bitumen is suitable for a project location, where the average 7-day
maximum pavement temperature is as high as 64 C, and the minimum pavement
temperature is –22 C.
The high temperature grades are PG 52, PG 58, PG 64, PG 70, PG 76, and PG 82. The
low temperature grades are –4, – 10, -16, -22, -28, -34 and so forth. Both high and
low temperature grades are in increments of 6 Celsius degrees.
Example: A project location in Rajasthan has a maximum record 7-day pavement
temperature of 70 C in summer and a minimum record pavement temperature of –3 C.
A PG 70-4 bitumen will be specified for paving that project.
The complete Superpave binder system is described in detail in Reference 1.
SELECTION OF BITUMEN FOR INDIA
There is no question the 110-year old penetration grading system used in India was
outdated, inadequate, and unsuitable for the ambitious highway construction
programme in India. Ideally, the latest Superpave performance grading system should
be used. However, it involves complex and expensive testing equipment. The
highway specifying agencies would also need to be trained for its implementation.
Therefore, it was realistic and practical to adopt the 30-year old viscosity grading
system. The author had the privilege of single-handedly initiating and getting the
viscosity grading adopted in India in 2005 with the support of the National Advisory
Council after overcoming resistance from the suppliers and user agencies. User
agencies in India tend to maintain status quo in terms of specifications and testing
equipment. Refineries did not wish to change their refining processes to obtain
viscosity grades rather than penetration grades.
Thus the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) adopted IS: 73 -2006 which specified
viscosity grading for the first time in India. This bitumen grading system had an
excellent performance history in the United States including the south eastern states,
which have hot climate and heavy rainfall similar to India. A vast storehouse of
published papers is also available on the development, use, and experience with
viscosity graded bitumen binders (7-14). The adoption of Superpave performance
grading system can be considered as a long-term goal or for use on very important,
large paving projects if needed at the present time (2014).
Table 1 gives the former Indian Specifications for bitumen (IS 73:1992) for three
penetration grades: 40-50 (S45), 60-70 (S65), and 80-100 (S90).
TABLE 1. FORMER PENETRATION GRADED BITUMEN
SPECIFICATIONS IN INDIA (AFTER IS: 73 – 1992)
Characteristics Grade S45 Grade S65 Grade S90
Specific gravity at 27 C, min 0.99 0.99 0.99
Water, % by mass, max 0.2 0.2 0.2
Flash point, C, min 175 175 175
Softening point, C 50-60 45-55 40-55
Penetration at 25 C 40 to 50 60 to 70 80-100
Penetration ratio*, min 40 35 30
Ductility at 27 C, cm, min
75 75 75
Paraffin wax, % by mass, max 4.5 4.5 4.5
Fraass breaking point, C, min - 4 - 6 - 8
Loss on heating, TFO, %, max 1 1 1
Retained penetration after TFO,
% of original, min
55 52 47
Solubility in trichloroethylene,
99 99 99
* Penetration ratio = (Penetration at 4 C, 200g, 60 s / Penetration at 25 C, 100g, 5 s)
It should be noted that several tests and requirements given in the former penetration-
graded Bitumen Specifications IS: 73 - 1992 (Table 1) are not there in the viscosity-
graded specifications in Table 2, because they are simply redundant and unnecessary
owing to the reasons given in Reference 3.
Therefore, the adoption of viscosity graded bitumen specification reduced the total
number of tests to 8 only compared to penetration graded bitumen specification,
which used 12 tests. This reduced the time and cost of testing bitumen without
compromising its quality (3).
IS: 73 – 2006 Paving Bitumen Specification (Third Revision) was subsequently
revised in 2013 to conform generally to ASTM D 3381 standard. Table 2 gives the
gives the general specification requirements for 4 viscosity grades (VG) as per IS: 73-
2013 (Fourth Revision) (15).
As mentioned earlier, in the US the term asphalt cement (AC) is used in lieu of
bitumen. That is why: the viscosity grades were termed AC-10, AC-30, etc. In India,
the term VG (viscosity grade) was introduced in lieu of AC grades. Both grading
systems are generally similar. For example: VG-30 is similar to AC-30 and so forth.
TABLE 2. VISCOSITY GRADED (VG) BITUMEN SPECIFICATION IN
INDIA (IS: 73 - 2013, FOURTH REVISION)
Characteristics VG-10 VG-20 VG-30 VG-40
Absolute viscosity, 60 C,
800-1200 1600-2400 2400-3600 3200-4800
Kinematic viscosity, 135 C,
250 300 350 400
Flash point, C, min 220 220 220 220
trichloroethylene, %, min
99.0 99.0 99.0 99.0
Penetration at 25 C, min 80 60 45 35
Softening point, C, min 40 45 47 50
Tests on residue from thin
film oven test/RTFOT:
Viscosity ratio at 60 C,
4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Ductility at 25 C, cm, min,
after thin film oven test
75 50 40 25
Tables 3 and 4 give recommended guidelines for selection of viscosity grade (VG) of
paving bitumen in India. Table 3 gives the general guidelines including the equivalent
penetration grades. Table 4 gives the selection criteria based on climatic conditions.
TABLE 3. VISCOSITY GRADED (VG) BITUMENS AND THEIR GENERAL
Viscosity Grade General Applications
VG-40 Use in highly stressed areas such as very heavy traffic roads, near intersections,
toll booths, and truck parking lots in lieu of old 30/40 penetration grade
VG-30 Use for paving in most of India in lieu of old 60/70 penetration grade
VG-20 Use for paving in cold climatic, high altitude regions of North India
VG-10 Use in spraying applications such as surface dressing and for paving in very
cold climate in lieu of old 80/100 penetration grade
TABLE 4. SELECTION CRITERIA FOR VISCOSITY-GRADED (VG)
PAVING BITUMENS BASED ON 7-DAY AVERAGE MAXIMUM AIR
TEMPERATURES (AFTER IS: 73 - 2013)
Viscosity Grade Suitable for 7-Day Average Maximum Temperature in
Degrees C *
VG-10 Less than 30
VG-20 30 – 37
VG-30 38 - 45
VG-40 More than 45
* Select the hottest period of 7 consecutive days during the past at least 5 years from
MET weather records and determine the average of those seven consecutive hot days.
At the present time (2014) demand for supply of VG-40 bitumen has increased. This
is because the recently revised IRC:37 – 2012, “Guidelines for Design of Flexible
Pavements” (Third Revision) is promoting the use of VG-40 bitumen as a far better
paving bitumen compared to VG-30 and even polymer modified bitumen (PMB) with
elastomers. It has been claimed in this IRC code that the strength of asphalt mix (in
terms of its resilient modulus (Mr) at pavement design temperature of 35 C)
containing VG-40 far exceeds that of asphalt mix containing VG-30 and even PMB
with elastomer as shown below.
Bitumen Binder Resilient Modulus for BC and DBM at 35 C, MPa
No comprehensive test data is available to support the preceding Mr strength values
given in the IRC code. All across the world, PMB with elastomer is considered far
better than neat bitumen such as VG-30 and VG-40 in terms of resistance to rutting
and resistance to fatigue cracking. It is not understood as to why India can be
As mentioned earlier, VG-40 is being promoted as far superior to VG-30. The fact is
these two bitumen grades are very close to each other. Their viscosity at 60 C and
penetration at 25 C (which indirectly indicate their stiffness or strength) overlap in
such a way that it would not be unusual if in some cases VG-30 may be stiffer
(stronger) than VG-40 if both were refined from different crude sources. The overlap
of their properties is shown below:
Bitumen Grade Viscosity at 60 C, poises Penetration at 25 C
VG-30 2400 – 3600 45 minimum
VG-40 3200 – 4800 35 minimum
Therefore, it would not be unusual if VG-30 and VG-40 from two different sources
have the following properties both meeting IS:73 – 2013:
Bitumen Grade Viscosity at 60 C, poises Penetration at 25 C
VG-30 3500 (stiffer) 48 (stiffer)
VG-40 3300 50
The above data in this case clearly shows that VG-30 is stiffer than VG-40 both at 60
C and 25 C. Therefore, it would also be stiffer at the intermediate temperature of 35 C
used for pavement thickness design.
Unfortunately, the new IRC code has led the contractors to use VG-40 bitumen so that
they can reduce the asphalt pavement thickness and thus realize significant cost
savings. According to the example given in the IRC code, one can use DBM of 150
mm thickness with VG-40 compared to 180 mm thickness with VG-30. Even in the
US at the present time (2014) no reduction in pavement thickness is being made by
most states by using harder grade of bitumen or even PMB. This is because of the
1. Stiffness (Mr) of the asphalt mix is not only dependent on the bitumen
viscosity (grade) but also largely on the mix gradation especially the
percentage material passing 0.075 mm sieve and mix volumetrics (such as
VMA and air voids). Therefore, a specific asphalt mix with VG-30 may be
much stiffer than another asphalt mix with VG-40 if the former has different
mix gradation and volumetrics. The current (2014) Mechanistic Empirical
Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG) used in the US allows predictive equations
such as Witczak Equation for estimating the dynamic modulus (analogous to
resilient modulus Mr) of the asphalt mix for pavement design. Besides
viscosity (or other rheological properties of the binder) such equations also use
aggregate gradation, mix volumetrics (such as VMA and air voids) and
effective bitumen content (1). It should be noted that Witczak predictive
equation was based on 7400 test data points obtained by testing 346 asphalt
mixes. That is why it is simply not possible to catalog the resilient modulus
(Mr) in respect to binder viscosity grade alone, which has been done in the
IRC:37 – 2012 Guidelines for Design of Flexible Pavements. No state in the
US is doing it at the present time (2014) because there is too much overlap of
resilient modulus among asphalt mixes.
2. Cataloging based on bitumen grade may result in under design of asphalt
pavement because there are so many other factors mentioned above.
Under the preceding circumstances it would be unjustified and premature in India
to reduce pavement thickness based on the “assumption” that a specific viscosity
grade of bitumen to be used is stiffer than another grade. What is needed is to
continue VG-30 grade which is generally satisfactory and develop a good mix
design rather than relying on VG-40 as a panacea for India without any proven
comparative field performance data. In very high-traffic situation, it is advisable
to use modified bitumen binders rather than VG-40, which are discussed next.
MODIFIED BITUMEN BINDERS
Bituminous binders are predominantly used in surfacing the vast network of roads in
India. In recent years, traffic loads and tyre pressures have increased, which has
created a situation for which modified binders with enhanced performance are needed.
Modified binders are those bituminous binders whose properties have been modified
by the use of additive(s). Bitumen binders have been modified (1, 16, 17) in order to:
stiffen binders and mixes at high temperatures to minimize rutting
soften binders at low temperatures to improve relaxation properties and strain
tolerance thus minimizing non-load associated thermal cracking
improve fatigue resistance especially where higher strains are imposed on
improve aggregate-bitumen bonding to reduce (not necessarily eliminate)
improve bituminous pavement durability with accompanying net reduction in
life cycle costs
permit thicker films of bitumen on aggregate in special bituminous mixes such
as open graded asphalt friction courses (porous asphalt) and stone matrix
Types of Polymers
The term “polymer” simply refers to a very large molecule made by chemically
reacting many (poly) smaller molecules (monomers) to one another either in long
chains or clusters. The sequence and chemical structure of the monomers from which
it is made determines the physical properties of a specific polymer. When polymers
are incorporated into bitumen, the properties of the modified bitumen depend on the
polymer system used and the compatibility of the polymer with the bitumen (16).
Polymers most often used in modifying bitumen can be grouped in two general
categories: elastomers and plastomers. As the name implies, elastomers can be
stretched like a rubber band and recover their shape when the stretching force is
released. Elastomers add only a little strength to the bitumen until they are stretched
when they really get stronger. Plastomers form a tough, rigid, three dimensional
networks within the bitumen. These plastomers give high initial strength to the
bitumen to resist heavy loads. However, plastomers may crack at high strains (16).
Polymer droplets can also be emulsified in water; this water based emulsion is called
latex (example SBR Latex). It is easy to incorporate the water based latex into water
based asphalt emulsions. That is why; surface dressing (chip seals) and slurry seals
were the first paving applications in the US, which took advantage of polymer
modified bitumen (16).
If two or more different monomers are used to make polymers, the resulting polymers
are called random or block copolymers. For manufacturing block copolymers, a
polymer of one monomer is chemically reacted to a block of another monomer.
Elastomers: Elastomeric polymers have the ability to resist permanent deformation
and cohesive failure in the bituminous mix by stretching and then recovering their
shape when the deforming force is removed. Similar to a rubber band, an elastomer
exhibits little strength at low tensile strains. That is why; if the stiffness of a
bituminous mix is measured as resilient modulus (a non-destructive low strain test) it
may be similar to the mix made with unmodified base bitumen. Since the tensile
strength of an elastomer increases with elongation, dynamic tests which measure
accumulated shear strain over a number of cycles should be used to fully understand
the value of elastomeric modification of the bituminous mix (16).
Several different types of elastomeric polymers are used for modifying bitumen.
Examples are: styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS) block copolymer; styrene-butadiene
rubber; styrene isoprene styrene (SIS); and ethylene terpolymer (ETP).
Plastomers: As mentioned earlier, the rigid, three dimensional networks of
plastomers impart quick early tensile strength to the bituminous mix under heavy
loads. These bituminous mixes also exhibit high moduli in low strain tests such as
resilient modulus. However, despite high early strength these mixes have lower strain
tolerance. At high pavement strains such as those occurring in bituminous overlay
over concrete joints, such mixes crack in form of fatigue cracking or reflection
Plastomers used for modifying bitumen for flexible pavement construction are
generally polyolefins such as polyethylene, polypropylene or copolymers of
polyolefins. Polyolefins are typically incompatible with bitumen and separate quickly
in heated storage. However, some novel chemical systems have been developed to
stabilize polyethylene in bitumen.
Examples of plastomers for modifying bitumen are: ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA);
ethylene butyl acrylate (EBA); polyethylene; and ethylene-methyl-acrylate (EMA)
Compatibility of Polymers with Bitumen
It should be recognized that there is a complex relationship between the chemical
composition of bitumen binders, their colloidal structure, and their physical and
rheological properties. Anything such as a polymer which modifies the chemical
composition of bitumen definitely modifies its structure and, consequently, its
The storage stability of modified binders is very important during actual use. Since
the modified binders have two distinct phases, there is always a potential for
separation or sedimentation unless the polymer and bitumen are chemically cross-
linked like some reactive terpolymers, which have better storage stability. The
potential for separation increases when (a) the difference in density between the two
phases increases and (b) the viscosity of the continuous phase decreases (18).
Crumb Rubber Modified Bitumen (CRMB)
During the time period when highway engineers in the US were trying to understand
complex polymer modified bitumen (PMB) systems as previously discussed, came
another far more complex and least understood modified binder: crumb rubber
modified bitumen (CRMB). In the US, CRMB is simply called Asphalt-Rubber (AR)
binder. Rubber from discarded tyres is ground to a particulate or crumb prior to
adding it to bitumen to produce CRMB (19).
Charles McDonald, who was an engineer with City of Phoenix, Arizona, US,
developed the AR technology in the early 1960s. The use of AR or CRMB was
sporadic in the US until 1991, when the US Congress mandated its use in all 50 states
through central legislation. This was done in spite of the fact that the performance of
bituminous pavements with CRMB was mixed in the US in the past (20). Whereas in
some projects the CRMB enhanced the performance of the bituminous pavement,
there was no significant improvement in other projects. This political decision by the
US Congress (counterpart of parliament in India), which was not based on sound
engineering principles, was opposed both by the asphalt industry and the state
highway departments’ officials at that time (19).
Since most of the states did not have any experience in using CRMB, the US Federal
Highway Administration (FHWA) undertook an ambitious practical training
programme for state highway engineers. The US training manual (21) co-authored by
this author emphasized the importance of stringent quality control requirements right
from the production of the CRMB at or in close proximity of hot mix asphalt plant;
transportation of CRMB from production site to asphalt mix plant; storage of CRMB
in contractor’s plant; and final testing of CRMB just prior to adding it to aggregates in
asphalt plant pug mill or drum.
During the mandate all 50 states in the US used CRMB in numerous bituminous
paving projects from 1991 until 1995 when the mandate was repealed. Thereafter,
most states discontinued the routine use of CRMB in bituminous paving mixtures.
There are three primary reasons for this.
First, the use of CRMB requires development of a state wide infrastructure consisting
of strategically placed blending terminals or on-site blending units. This is required
because CRMB must be used as soon as possible because its quality can start to
deteriorate as early as 6 hours after production.
Second, the quality control requirements right from the production to the end use of
CRMB are too cumbersome because of two issues: (a) crumb rubber tends to separate
and settle down in the bitumen and (b) crumb rubber is prone to degradation
(devulcanization and depolymerization) if its use is delayed thereby losing its vital
properties including elasticity and viscosity (19).
Third, many states such as Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada,
Washington, and Wisconsin
reported mixed performance of bituminous pavements
constructed with CRMB and the cost effectiveness of CRMB was found to be none to
At the present time (2014), CRMB is used on a routine basis only in four states in the
US: Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas. The remaining 46 states do not appear to
have much interest in developing the necessary infrastructure and implementing the
necessary quality control programme to ensure effective use of CRMB.
Production of CRMB: CRMB is produced by the so-called wet process in which
crumb rubber is added to hot bitumen and the mixture is agitated mechanically until
there is a “reaction” between the bitumen and crumb rubber. The “reaction” is not a
chemical process but rather a diffusion process that includes the physical absorption
of aromatic oils from the bitumen into the polymer chain of the rubber. The rubber
particles swell as they absorb oils, which cause the viscosity of the CRMB to increase
during the first hour or so. After the “reaction” and associated swelling is over, the
viscosity of the blend levels off (21).
If the CRMB is maintained at high temperature for a prolonged period of time (as
little as 6 hours), the crumb rubber begins to degrade (devulcanize and depolymerise)
causing the CRMB viscosity to decrease from its plateau level (also called the target
viscosity). Physical and chemical properties of CRMB are influenced by the following
(a) Bitumen Crude Source and Method of Refining: The chemical composition of
bitumen varies from one petroleum crude source to another, from which it is
refined. No two crude sources are the same. The method of refining also
affects bitumen’s chemical composition in terms of asphaltenes and maltenes
contents. Since bitumen is a hydrocarbon and crumb rubber also contains
substantial amounts of hydrocarbons, their mutual chemical compatibility
affects the physical and chemical properties of CRMB. The type and amount
of oil readily available in bitumen for absorption by crumb rubber also affects
these properties. Bitumen binders low in aromatic oils tend to produce CRMB
with poor adhesive properties.
(b) Source of Crumb Rubber: Crumb rubber can be obtained from truck tyres or
automobile tyres or both. Whole truck tyre contains 18 percent natural rubber
compared to 9 percent in an automobile tyre and 2 percent in tyre treads. The
amount of natural rubber has shown to affect the properties of CRMB
significantly. Each lot of crumb rubber may have different chemical
composition depending on the source (truck tyres or automobile tyres or
mixture of both) and, therefore, when combined with the same source of
bitumen may give different properties.
(c) Method of Producing Crumb Rubber: Crumb rubber is produced from
discarded tyres by two methods: (a) grinding at ambient temperatures and (b)
grinding cryogenically cooled tyre rubber. The grinding method affects the
crumb rubber particle morphology, which in turn affects the rate of reaction
and properties of CRMB.
(d) Amount and Size of Crumb Rubber: Both the amount and size of crumb
rubber particles affect the properties of CRMB.
Transportation of CRMB. Even after the crumb rubber has “reacted” with
bitumen, it has a tendency to separate from bitumen partially and settle down
during transportation and storage at the contractor’s plant until CRMB is used.
Therefore, it is essential that the truck tankers carrying CRMB are equipped with
heavy-duty recirculation devices or mechanical agitators to keep the crumb rubber
CRMB Use in the US. Even then, the few states in the US, which use CRMB on
a routine basis at the present time, require that the CRMB should be used within a
specified number of hours after production. For example, California, Kansas, and
Arizona specify that the CRMB must be used within 4, 6, and 10 hours,
respectively (22). This kind of requirement does not allow the CRMB to be
produced at oil refineries, which are generally far away from asphalt mix plants.
That is why; an infrastructure of numerous blending terminals or on-site blending
units is necessary within a state.
Field Performance of Pavements with Polymer Modified Bitumen
Polymer modified bitumen binders especially those with elastomers are routinely used
today in the US in flexible pavement structures or overlays carrying high volumes of
traffic. On the basis of the field performance comparisons made between PMB
modified and unmodified bitumen sections, it has been found that PMB mixes
significantly enhance not only the rutting performance of flexible pavements but also
their fatigue and fracture performance.
Historical Use of Modified Bitumen Binders in India
As the interest was picking up, the Indian Roads Congress brought out a special
Publication (SP: 53) titled, “Tentative Guidelines on Use of Polymer and
Rubber Modified Binders” in 2002 (23). This document contained, separate
requirements for different grades of elastomeric and plastomeric thermoplastic
modifiers, and latex and crumb rubber modifiers. Tables 5 and 6 give some selected
requirements for polymer modified bitumen (PMB) with elastomer and crumb rubber
modified bitumen (CRMB), respectively based on IRC:SP:53:2002.
TABLE 5. SELECTED REQUIREMENTS OF POLYMER MODIFIED
BITUMEN (PMB) – ELASTOMER THERMOPLASTIC BASED (AFTER
PMB 120 PMB 70 PMB 40
Penetration at 25 C,
100 g, 5 sec
90-150 50-90 30-50
Softening Point, C,
50 55 60
Ductility at 27 C,
75 + 60 + 50 +
Elastic Recovery, 75 75 75
15 C, %, min.
Viscosity at 150 C,
1-3 2-6 3-9
Thin film Oven
50 50 50
* Designation of PMB grades corresponds to mid point of the penetration range.
TABLE 6. SELECTED REQUIREMENTS OF CRUMB RUBBER MODIFIED
BITUMEN (CRMB) (AFTER IRC:SP:53:2002)
CRMB 50 CRMB 55 CRMB 60
Penetration at 25 C,
100 g, 5 sec
Less than 70 Less than 60 Less than 50
Softening Point, C,
50 55 60
15 C, %, min.
50 50 50
Thin film Oven
35 35 35
* Designation of CRMB grades corresponds to minimum specified softening point.
TABLE 7. SELECTION CRITERIA FOR MODIFIED BITUMEN BINDERS
(AFTER IRC: 111 - 2009)
Highest Daily Mean Air Temperature, C
Less than 20 C 20 to 30 C More than 30 C
Grade of Modified Bitumen
More than -10 C PMB/NRMB 120
-10 C or lower PMB/NRMB 120
NRMB = Natural rubber modified bitumen
Grade selection criteria based on maximum and minimum atmospheric temperatures
at the site is given in Table 7. Requirements of softening point and elastic recovery
were different for different types and grades of modifications. However, there was no
guidance as to which modified binder was suitable based on traffic level and intensity.
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) also developed similar separate specification
IS: 15462 for different modified binders in 2002 (24).
Later, the Indian Roads Congress issued the 2010 version of SP:53
wherein the specifications for different types of modifiers have been unified (25).
Obviously, to accommodate the CRMB the minimum elastic recovery
requirement was reduced for all modified binders including PMB with elastomer.
Increasing consideration was given to the use of modified binders in
important airport pavement projects. Airports at Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore
may be cited as examples of their substantial use. A notable aspect is that SP: 53-
2010 provisions are not being followed in toto. The requirements in respect of
softening point, elastic recovery, etc, are being enhanced vis-à-vis those of SP:53-
2010. In other words, PMBs with elastomers which meet the enhanced requirements
are being largely used.
Cost wise, crumb rubber modified bitumen is being quoted at the lowest rate,
only up to about 10 percent higher than the price of unmodified bitumen. This is
probably due to the fact that CRMB specifications in India are not stringent compared
to the US. Indian specifications do not specify minimum amount, gradation and
chemical composition of the rubber modifier. The costliest modification is that with
SBS type polymers – about 30 percent cost increase with 3% SBS and 50% increase
with 5% SBS. Higher initial cost does not necessarily mean that SBS modified binder
is less advantageous on life cycle cost basis. Choice is to be made in each case on the
basis of lowest life cycle cost.
Recommendations for Use of Modified Binders in India
There is an urgent need to collate all available good performance data on different
modifiers to identify the gaps, and to institute systematic studies for filling those gaps.
In the interim, the history of development, use, and experience with modified binders
in developed countries should be helpful in making recommendations for their use in
India. It has been well established that modified binders made with different polymers
(elastomers and plastomers) and different modifiers (crumb rubber and natural rubber)
are complex systems with vastly different physical and chemical characteristics.
Therefore, there cannot be a common specification for these different types of
modified binders. Each type must have its own separate specification similar to
AASHTO and ASTM. In case of a common specification like in IRC:SP:53-2010, the
following consequences are expected: (a) lowering the requirements to the level
where a weak modifier like crumb rubber can also qualify, would lower the
performance standard for all modifiers; (b) suppliers of better and more expensive
products will tend to downgrade the quality of their products so as to be more
competitive price wise if that is the criterion for decision making; and (c) lowering
the quality will come in the way of producing still better products thus having a
negative effect on further R&D activities. Therefore, until IRC:SP:53:2010 is revised,
it is recommended to use IRC:SP:53:2002 or IS:15462 specifications and specify the
modifier type in the contracts. This would ensure the best possible performance of the
Polymer modified bitumen (PMB) with elastomers is most commonly used with
success on major highways in the developed countries because elasticity in this PMB
provides resistance to both rutting and fatigue cracking. Such PMBs are also
relatively more stable and maintain their integrity better compared to PMBs with
plastomers, CRMB, and NRMB (natural rubber modified bitumen). Superpave
performance grades (PG) have been made successfully with these PMBs. PMBs with
elastomers are therefore recommended for heavily trafficked roads in India.
Polymer modified bitumen with plastomers are hardly used in flexible pavements in
the developed countries because although they provide higher strength initially, they
are prone to cracking at high strains and do not rebound after deforming force is
removed. Therefore, there is no need to have a specification in India for PMBs with
plastomers to avoid its unnecessary and improper use, until proper technical
justification is provided.
A separate specification may be considered if desired for natural rubber modified
bitumen (NRMB) for its limited use in India to support the local industry in southern
India. It should not be used on heavily trafficked roads where only PMBs with
elastomers should be used as mentioned earlier. However, NRMB should be used
with caution because like CRMB it has degradation problems if kept at high
temperature for too long.
It has been established that CRMB is much more complex and least understood
compared to PMBs with elastomers. Because of the complex and varying chemical
composition of crumb rubber obtained from tread/side wall of truck and/or car tyres,
its compatibility with bitumen is always questionable. That is why; CRMB has given
mixed performance in the US. No high performance grade PG grade such as PG 76-
22 can be made with CRMB because it lacks adequate elastic component. If India
were to adopt PG grading today, PG 76-22 would be recommended for heavily
trafficked roads. Therefore, CRMB is not recommended for use in India on heavily
If CRMB is considered for use on medium trafficked roads, it should have its own
separate specification and should be specified as such for specific projects. This is
because its elastic recovery is considerably lower than that of PMBs with elastomers.
Some of the tests specified in the Superpave PG grading system such as dynamic
shear rheometer (DSR) cannot be conducted on CRMB samples because it has
discreet rubber particles. That means, it is not possible to specify maximum phase
angle delta (which is obtained with DSR) to ensure some elasticity in the CRMB.
Rather, elastic recovery test with ductility machine has to be maintained and
continued at the present time (2014).
If CRMB is specified for medium trafficked roads, it should be blended on site in
close proximity of hot mix plants so that it can be used within 6-8 hours after
production. Claims that the so-called “chemically modified” CRMB in India does not
have settlement and/or degradation problems have not been validated as yet with any
reported meaningful field test data. The number of CRMB manufactures is growing in
India; many do not have qualified technical staffs, who understand this complex,
unpredictable binder material. Obviously, if on-site blending is done, a fully equipped
testing laboratory staffed with qualified technicians should be mandatory at the
In any case, CRMB must be tested at the time of delivery by the government highway
agency and contractors to ensure its quality in terms of integrity and elasticity.
Use of any modified binder in bituminous mix on low volume rural roads such as
PMGSY is detrimental to their durability. The current practice of using CRMB in
such applications should be discontinued until proper technical justification is
Cutback bitumen is liquid bitumen which is manufactured by adding (cutting back)
petroleum solvents (also called cutter stock or diluent) to neat bitumen. It is made to
reduce the bitumen viscosity to facilitate lower application temperatures. It is
analogous to oil paint which can be thinned as required for application by adding a
solvent such as turpentine. On application to aggregate or pavement the solvent in the
cutback bitumen escapes by evaporation, thus leaving the bitumen residue on the
surface. Based on the relative rate of evaporation of the solvent used, cutback
bitumen is divided into three types (Table 8):
TABLE 8. GRADES AND USES OF CUTBACK BITUMEN (AFTER IS: 217 -
TYPE Rapid Curing
Distillate used Naphtha Kerosene Diesel or oil
Uses Tack coat and surface
Prime coat and
Dust palliative and
1. Rapid-Curing (RC) - produced by adding a light diluent of high volatility (generally
gasoline or naphtha) to bitumen. RC cutbacks are used primarily for tack coat and
surface dressing (chip seals) where rapid curing after application is desirable to retain
chips on opening to traffic.
2. Medium-Curing (MC) - produced by adding a medium diluent of intermediate
volatility (generally kerosene) to bitumen. These are generally used for prime coat,
readymade stockpile pothole patching mixtures, and open graded cold asphalt mixes.
MC cutbacks give adequate time to facilitate its penetration as a prime coat and also to
mix with aggregate to produce and store readymade pothole patching mixes. RC
cutback would cure prematurely in such applications.
3. Slow-Curing (SC) - produced by adding oils of low volatility (generally diesel or
other gas oils) to bitumen. They are also called road oils. They are generally used for
prime coat, stockpile patching mixtures, dust palliatives and dense graded cold asphalt
mixes. They are hardly used across the world at the present time.
Cutback bitumen is commercially available in different viscosity grades as shown in
Table 8. The thinnest and most fluid grade is designated by the suffix number 30,
which is available in MC type only. Other suffix numbers, 70, 250, 800, and 3000,
denoting increasingly higher viscosities, are available in all types. These suffix
numbers represent the minimum kinematic viscosity in centistokes at 60 C for the
particular grade; the maximum kinematic viscosity being twice the minimum viscosity.
Specifications for SC, MC, and RC type cutback asphalts are given in ASTM D 2026,
ASTM D 2027, and ASTM D 2028, respectively (1). IS: 217 Specification for Cutback
Bitumen is used in India for all cutback grades (26).
Emulsified bitumen (simply called emulsion) is increasingly being used in lieu of
cutback bitumen due to environmental regulations, loss of high energy products and
concern for safety, as explained later.
Although it is a good move to replace cutback bitumen with emulsified bitumen, there
are some practical problems. For example, MC-30 Medium Curing Bitumen is more
effective as prime coat compared to slow setting emulsified bitumen. This is because
MC-30 penetrates unbound pavement courses such as wet mix macadam (WMM) to
more depth and also in less time compared to slow setting emulsion. That is why;
many highway agencies in the world including MORTH and IRC (27) permit the use
of MC-30 Cutback as primer. This issue is discussed later in prime coat.
Similarly, MC-250 and MC-800 cutback bitumen are very effective in producing
generic, unpatented readymade stockpile pothole patching mixes, which have been
permitted and used in the US by many highway agencies as exception in lieu of
emulsified bitumen. It is difficult to produce such mixes which have a shelf life of at
least 6 months with emulsions alone. Such a mix was developed by the author (28) in
the US and has been used successfully there for about 30 years. That patching mix
(called Section 485 material in Pennsylvania) was also adjudged the best mix in a
nationwide 4-year US study (29). This mix was introduced in India as the most
effective and economical readymade pothole patching mix (30). The Jaipur
Development Authority has successfully used this so-called Kandhal Readymade
Pothole Patching Mix produced with MC-800 Cutback Bitumen since 2010 (31).
Finally, this specification has now been adopted by the Indian Roads Congress as
IRC:116-2014, “Specification for Readymade Bituminous Pothole Patching mix
Using Cutback Bitumen” (32). There is urgent need to implement this proven
technology all across India to tackle the menace of potholes.
Since only MC Cutback Bitumen is permitted in India, Table 9 gives some selected
test requirements and acceptable test values for four MC grades: MC-30, MC-70,
MC-250 and MC-800.
TABLE 9. SELECTED REQUIREMENTS OF FOUR MEDIUM CURING
CUTBACK BITUMEN GRADES (AFTER IS: 217 – 2009)
GRADE MC-30 MC-70 MC-250 MC-800
Kinematic viscosity at
60 C, centistokes
30-60 70-140 250-500 800-1600
Flash point, Pensky
Martens, C, min.
38 38 65 65
Residue by distillation,
% by volume, min.
50 55 67 75
Viscosity of distillation
residue at 60 C, poises
300-1200 300-1200 300-1200 300-1200
As mentioned earlier, MCs are solutions of bitumen and kerosene. The user agencies
must ensure that the right grade of MC is being supplied by testing its kinematic
viscosity at 60 C and also ensure the MC has the minimum amount of residue bitumen
in it by conducting a distillation test. Under no circumstances the cutback should be
allowed to be manufactured in the field by contractor or highway agency; it should be
supplied by refinery or approved manufacturer. This is necessary to ensure specified
quality standard and also avoid safety hazards during manufacturing process.
As mentioned earlier, emulsified bitumen (simply called emulsion) is increasingly
being used in lieu of cutback bitumen for the following reasons:
1. Environmental regulations. Emulsions are relatively pollution free. Unlike cutback
bitumen there are relatively small amounts of volatiles to evaporate into the atmosphere
other than water.
2. Loss of high energy products. When cutback bitumen cures, the diluents which are
high energy, high price products are wasted into the atmosphere.
3. Safety. Emulsions are safe to use. There is little danger of fire as compared to the
cutback bitumen, some of which have very low flash points.
4. Lower application temperature. Emulsions can be applied at relatively low
temperatures compared to cutback bitumen, thus saving fuel costs. Emulsions can also
be applied effectively to a damp pavement, whereas dry conditions are generally
required for cutback bitumen.
Emulsified bitumen is a mixture of bitumen, water, and emulsifying agent. Because
the bitumen will not dissolve in water, bitumen and water exist in separate phases as
shown in Figure 20. Hot bitumen and water containing the emulsifying agent (soap is
one example) are passed under pressure through a colloid mill to produce extremely
small (less than 5-10 microns) globules or droplets of bitumen which are suspended in
water (Figure 21). (The term “asphalt cement” or “asphalt” in these figures means
bitumen). The emulsifying agent imparts an electric charge (generally either positive
or negative) to the surface of the droplets which causes them to repel one another, and
thus the globules do not coalesce. Emulsified bitumen is also categorized as liquid
bitumen because, unlike neat bitumen, it is liquid at ambient temperatures. Emulsions
are made to reduce the bitumen viscosity for lower application temperatures. They are
ideal for use in remote areas where heating facilities are not easily available (1).
Two most commonly used types of emulsified bitumen are as follows:
1. Anionic - electro-negatively charged bitumen droplets (ASTM D 977 or IS: 3117)
2. Cationic - electro-positively charged bitumen (ASTM D 2397 or IS: 8887)
If the emulsifying agent is anionic, the bitumen droplets bear a negative charge. If the
emulsifying agent is cationic, the droplets bear a positive charge.
Figure 20. Emulsified Bitumen (courtesy NAPA REF)
Figure 21. Manufacture of Emulsified Bitumen (courtesy NAPA REF)
Most mineral aggregates bear a positive or a negative or mixed charge on the surface.
Most siliceous aggregates, such as sandstone, quartz and siliceous gravel, are
predominantly negatively charged and therefore are generally compatible with the
positively charged cationic emulsified bitumen. On the other hand, some aggregates
such as limestone bear a positive surface charge and are therefore generally
compatible with the negatively charged anionic emulsified bitumen. This occurs
because opposite charges attract one another (1) (Figure 22). However, in India only
cationic emulsion which is versatile is generally used in road construction.
When emulsified bitumen is mixed with aggregate, it "sets" or "breaks" because the
asphalt droplets react with the surface of the aggregate and coalesce, squeezing out
the water between them. The evaporation of water is the primary method which
finally causes the anionic emulsified bitumen to “break” or “set” and produces a
continuous film of bitumen residue on the aggregate or pavement. Therefore, anionic
emulsions break slowly at low ambient temperatures and humid conditions. Cationic
emulsified bitumen on the other hand breaks primarily by some electro-chemical
processes and do not completely rely on weather conditions.
FIGURE 22. Compatibility of Emulsified Bitumen with Aggregates
Both anionic and cationic emulsified bitumen are further graded according to their
"setting" rate. The anionic emulsified bitumen type includes rapid setting (RS),
medium setting (MS), and slow setting (SS) as specified in ASTM D 977 or IS: 3117.
The setting rate is controlled by the type and amount of the emulsifying agent. The
anionic grades in ASTM D 977 are: RS-1, HFRS-2, RS-2, MS-1, HFMS-2, MS-2,
MS-2h, SS-1, and SS-1h. The “h” designation means harder base bitumen used in the
emulsion. The “HF” designation refers to a high float residue, which is an indication
of chemical gelling of the emulsion residue. IS: 3117 for Anionic Type Emulsified
Bitumen specifies only three grades: RS, MS, and SS. There are no sub grades. All
three grades have Saybolt Furol viscosity of 20-100 seconds at 25 C. The minimum
bitumen content is 65% for RS and MS and 57% for SS grade.
The cationic emulsified bitumen types which are specified in ASTM D 2397 also
include rapid- setting (CRS), medium-setting (CMS), and slow-setting (CSS) grades.
The cationic grades are CRS-1, CRS-2, CMS-2, CMS-2h, CSS-1, CSS-1h, and CQS-
1h. Designation ‘h” indicates hard base bitumen and CQS-1h indicates quick set hard
base bitumen for slurry seal system.
Selection and use of different emulsified bitumen types are given in ASTM D 3628.
Generally, they are used as follows in the US:
1. Rapid-Setting Grades: Surface dressing and penetration macadam
[These applications require the emulsion to set (break) rapidly after application so that
road can be opened to traffic as soon as possible. RS grade is used in India for tack
2. Medium-Setting Grades: Open graded cold asphalt-aggregate mixtures
[This application requires the emulsion to set at a medium rate to allow enough time
for its mixing with open graded aggregate. A rapid setting emulsion would set
prematurely before mixing can be done.]
3. Slow-Setting Grades: Tack coat, prime coat, fog seal, dense graded cold asphalt-
aggregate mixtures, and slurry seals
[Slow setting grades allow easy dilution with water for spraying when applying tack
coat, prime coat and fog seals which are discussed later in detail. These grades also
allow mixing with dense graded aggregates and also mixing with fines in case of
Usually the amount of emulsified agent is increased successively to change RS grade
to MS grade to SS grade.
Only cationic emulsified bitumen conforming to IS: 8887 is primarily used in India
for road applications. Unlike ASTM standards, cationic grades are not identified by a
prefix “C” in India and therefore can be misleading to asphalt paving technologists
from outside India.
Table 10 gives the different grades of cationic emulsified bitumen types specified in
India together with their applications as per IS: 8887 (33).
Emulsions can be diluted by adding compatible water to it. However, it should first be
trial checked in the laboratory. If water is hard and incompatible it may break the
emulsion prematurely. Whereas slow setting emulsions are easier to dilute, rapid
setting emulsions may set (break) prematurely.
Table 10 also gives some selected tests and specified test values for emulsified
bitumen types most commonly used in India. Since emulsified bitumen is a mixture of
bitumen and water it is important to check the amount of bitumen in the emulsion to
determine whether it meets the minimum requirement. This can be accomplished by
obtaining bitumen residue by evaporation test.
A crude field check can be made to determine whether the supplied emulsion is RS,
MS or SS type. Mix about 5 grams of emulsion with about 100 grams of moist 5 mm
or 10 mm size aggregate. If the mix can be made with almost 100% coating, it is MS
or SS type. If the emulsion sets (breaks) without coating the aggregate, it is RS type.
To differentiate between MS and SS types, mix about 5 grams of supplied emulsion
with about 100 grams of stone dust (used in hot mix plant). If the mix can be made
with about 100% coating, it is SS type; otherwise it is MS type.
TABLE 10. GRADES, USES AND SELECTED REQUIREMENTS OF
CATIONIC EMULSIFIED BITUMEN (AS PER IS: 8887 - 2014)
Uses Tack coat Surface
at 25 C,
- - - 20-100 30-150
at 50 C,
20-100 100-300 50-300 - -
60 67 65 50 *** 60
80-150 80-150 60-150 - 60-120
*Mix should have practically no fine aggregate passing 2.36 mm sieve and 180
micron sieve size
** Mix should have a substantial amount of fine aggregate passing 2.36 mm sieve and
75 micron sieve.
*** Residue after distillation at 360 C, minimum; water content 20 percent maximum
In recent years (as of 2014), there has been a proliferation of emulsion manufacturers
in India. Some manufacturers do not have adequate technical expertise to produce
good quality emulsion and therefore the user agencies and contractors must exercise
good quality assurance measures at the time of delivery. Also, sometimes excessively
diluted emulsions are supplied.
A detailed discussion on the use of emulsions in prime coat, tack coat and fog seal
Prime coat consisting of low-viscosity bituminous binder is applied to an unbound,
granular base course to prepare it for overlaying with the first bituminous course.
Typically, the unbound base course in India consists of wet mix macadam (WMM),
also called crushed stone base course in some developed countries such as the United
Pavement engineers have mentioned the following functions of a prime coat in a
flexible (bituminous) pavement system:
To coat and stabilize loose particles on the surface of the unbound base.
To harden or toughen the base surface so as to avoid potential damage from
To protect the base course surface from wet weather by providing a temporary
For the prime coat to function properly, it should generally meet the following
The prime coat material should penetrate at least 8-10 mm into the unbound
The material should normally be absorbed within 48 hours.
Excess prime coat should be blotted by applying sand. [Asphalt paving
technologists have reported that no prime coat is better than excessive prime
coat because the latter can be detrimental to the flexible pavement.]
In the past, medium curing cutback bitumen such as MC-30 and MC-70 were used
effectively for prime coat. Many state highway agencies have now changed over from
cutback bitumen (cutbacks) to emulsified bitumen (emulsions) due to environmental
considerations as mentioned earlier. However, it has been found that generally
emulsions do not penetrate the unbound surface as much as cutbacks. Since the
bitumen residue from the emulsion simply lays on the surface with minimal
penetration, its effectiveness as a prime coat is questionable. Sometimes emulsions
need to be diluted heavily with water (such as 2 or 3 parts water and 1 part emulsion)
and then several applications are made to obtain reasonable penetration and the
minimum desired bitumen residue. This becomes too cumbersome.
Special inverted emulsions are slightly more effective. They are made by introducing
water in cutback bitumen, thus cutback bitumen is the continuous medium unlike
normal emulsions in which water is the continuous medium. However, from the
environment point of view it is still cutback bitumen to some extent.
Due to the preceding practical problems, many states in the US make an exception
and allow the use of MC-30 and MC-70 cutbacks in prime coat. The Indian Roads
Congress (IRC) is now also allowing these cutbacks for prime coat in the revised IRC:
16-2008 Standard Specifications for Prime and Tack Coat (27). Therefore, it is
recommended to use MC cutbacks as prime coat in India despite what some
environmentalists might say.
Besides the preceding problems associated with the use of emulsions in prime coat,
many pavement engineers have even questioned the very utility (need) of prime coat
in the flexible pavement structural system. It is especially so when the total thickness
of overlying bituminous courses exceeds 100 mm (4 inches) or so. The US Asphalt
Institute has recently stated, “At one time it was thought that a prime coat was an
essential element of good pavement construction. However, in recent years some
engineers have eliminated the use of a prime, especially when asphalt layer(s)
(surface and/or base) is 4 inches or more in thickness. In many instances, prime coats
have not been used even when surface thickness has been as thin as 2 inches. Over the
past 20 years, few, if any, pavement failures can be attributed to the lack of prime
Tack coat is used to bind together different bituminous courses such as base course,
binder course, and surface course so all combined function as a monolith. Typically,
flexible pavement thickness design for the bituminous component is based on this
assumption. If there is a lack of bond (due to no tack coat or excessive tack coat)
between say 40-mm thick surface course and the underlying binder course, the
pavement largely functions as though the bituminous pavement is only 40 mm thick,
resulting in fatigue cracks and/or slippage cracks. Therefore, a good tack coat between
courses is so vital for the bituminous component to function as desired.
Rapid setting (RS) such as RS-1 grade emulsion is used in India for tack coat ahead of
asphalt paving operation. Viscosity grade (VG) straight paving bitumen VG-10 grade
can also be used. Normal tack coat application rates are usually on the lighter side,
which are difficult to control through the nozzles of a typical bitumen distributor.
Therefore, emulsion diluted 50:50 with water can be applied at a higher rate still
obtaining the desired application rate of bitumen residue. As mentioned earlier,
generally it is not possible to dilute a RS emulsion with water (it tends to break). That
is why; it is common in the US to use a diluted SS emulsion for tack coat.
Normal emulsion is brownish in color. There is an old school of thought that before
paving, the sprayed emulsion should be allowed to turn black from brown. That is
really not necessary. As soon as hot asphalt mix is placed on brown emulsion the
water in emulsion flashes off instantly leaving behind neat bitumen residue. The proof
that it works is in the design of new generation pavers in use today. These pavers have
a built-in emulsion sprayer which applies tack coat just a few seconds before the mix
is placed and paved. No pavement problems have been reported with such paving
Tack coat over prime coat (?)
One highly unusual and technically unwarranted thing which is done only in India at
the present time (August 2014) is the application of tack coat over prime coat. It is
fundamentally not necessary and it is a sheer waste of India’s resources.
Unfortunately, MORTH orange book (2013) Section 503 Tack Coat and Indian Roads
Congress IRC: 16-2008 Code for Prime Coat and Tack Coat require tack coat over
In flexible pavement structural design, it is assumed that the total bituminous
component acts like a flexing beam under traffic loads. The objective is to provide
enough thickness to this beam so that its bending action (deflection) is minimal (it
cannot be eliminated altogether) and the resulting tensile strain at the bottom is also
minimal and does not initiate cracks at the bottom easily. It is not expected that the
unbound base under the beam would also bend as a monolith with the beam. The
unbound base hardly has any tensile strength. Therefore, it would be futile to bind
(tack) the interface between the underlying unbound base course and the beam.
It has also been alleged that sometimes only one application of SS-1 emulsion is
applied as prime coat and the application of RS-1 as tack coat is intentionally skipped;
but both are entered in the measurement book after the bituminous course is laid.
There is no easy way to determine later if two applications of emulsion were actually
used, which encourages fraud.
Also, tack coat over prime coat acts as excessive prime coat, which as mentioned
earlier is detrimental to the flexible pavement.
Having worked in the US, the author knows that tack coat is not applied over prime
coat there and the US roads are among the best in the world. What to talk about tack
coat, even the prime coat is not being applied in many cases as mentioned earlier.
[However, the author being a conservative engineer believes we should continue
applying the prime coat on WMM.] According to the author’s enquiries with highway
colleagues in Canada, South America, Europe and Australia, tack coat is not applied
over prime coat there. It is not understood as to why it is necessary in India.
Full technical justification for not applying tack coat over prime coat and its financial
implications for India can be seen at the following link:
About 57.3 crores of rupees per year are being wasted in India by unnecessarily
applying tack coat over prime coat. If this practice is stopped, India would also need
to import less petroleum crude oil because bitumen in the emulsion is obtained from
crude oil. Project engineers must use common sense and eliminate tack coat over
prime coat from their projects in interest of India.
Slow setting (SS) emulsions have been used for fog sealing existing bituminous
pavements. It is a preventive maintenance procedure to stabilize the surface of
existing oxidized bituminous surface which is on verge of developing ravelling (loss
of fines from the matrix). Fog seal consists of applying diluted SS emulsion with a
bitumen distributor. Application rate of fog seal depends on the surface texture of the
existing bituminous pavement so that the applied bitumen residue barely fills the
interstices between exposed aggregate particles. Too much application would result in
a slippery pavement which can cause accidents especially on high speed roads.
Therefore, fog seal may have to be applied at lighter rates in 2-3 repetitive
applications to ensure excessive bitumen is not used. In case of accidental application
of excessive fog seal, sharp sand should be sprinkled and rolled on a hot day. That is
why; fog seals are generally safe for parking lots and streets with slow-speed traffic
The preceding detailed technical keynote describes the following: historical
background of bitumen; bitumen refining; bitumen physical tests; bitumen grading
system; selection of bitumen for India; modified bitumen binders; cutback bitumen;
emulsified bitumen; and spraying applications such as prime coat, tack coat and fog
It is hoped this keynote has increased the understanding of paving bitumen by
practicing highway engineers in India. This would facilitate realization of its full
potential because it is the most expensive and the most important (adhesive)
ingredient in bituminous road construction.
The permission to use figures from the NCAT Textbook was obtained from the US
National Asphalt Pavement Association Research and Education Foundation (NAPA
REF) and is hereby acknowledged. Figures based on the slides included in the NCAT
Professor Training Program have also been used with thanks.
1. Roberts, F.L., P.S. Kandhal, E.R. Brown, D.Y. Lee, and T.W. Kennedy, “Hot
Mix Asphalt Materials, Mix Design, and Construction” Asphalt Textbook,
NAPA Education Foundation USA, Second Edition, 1996.
2. Kandhal, P.S., “ Low-Temperature Ductility in Relation to Pavement
Performance”, ASTM Special Technical Publication 628, 1977.
3. Kandhal, P.S., “An Overview of the Viscosity Grading System Adopted in
India for Paving Bitumen”, Indian Roads Congress, Indian Highways, April
4. Anderson, D.A. and T.W. Kennedy, “Development of SHRP Binder
Specifications”, Journal of the Association of the Asphalt Paving
Technologists, Volume 62, 1993.
5. McGennis, R.B., S. Shuler, and H.U. Bahia, “Background of Superpave
Binder Test Methods”, FHWA Report no. FHWA-SA-94-069, July 1994.
6. Superpave Performance Graded asphalt Binder Specification and Testing.
Asphalt Institute, Superpave Series No. 1 (SP-1), 1994.
7. Kandhal, P.S., L.D. Sandvig, and W.C. Koehler, “Asphalt Viscosity Related
Properties of In-Service Pavements in Pennsylvania”, ASTM Special
Technical Publication 532, 1973.
8. Kandhal, P.S. and M.E.Wenger, “Asphalt Properties in Relation to Pavement
Performance”, TRB, Transportation Research Record 544, 1975.
9. Kandhal, P.S. and W.C. Koehler, “Significant Studies on Asphalt Durability:
Pennsylvania Experience”, TRB, Transportation Research Record 999, 1984.
10. Kandhal, P.S., “Low-Temperature Properties of Paving Asphalts”, TRB State-
of- the-Art Report 7, 1988.
11. Kandhal, P.S. and W.C. Koehler, “Effect of Rheological Properties of
Asphalts on Pavement Cracking”, ASTM Special Technical Publication 941,
12. Kandhal, P.S., L.D. Sandvig, and M.E. Wenger, “ Shear Susceptibility of
Asphalts in Relation to Pavement Performance”, Proc. Association of Asphalt
Paving Technologists, Volume 42, 1973.
13. Kandhal, P.S., “Evaluation of Low-Temperature Cracking on Elk County
Research Project”, TRB, Transportation Research Record 777, 1980.
14. Welborn, J.Y., E.R. Oglio, and J.A. Zenewitz, “A Study of Viscosity-Graded
Asphalt Cements”, Proc. Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists,
Volume 35, 1966.
15. Bureau of Indian Standards, IS:73-2013, “Paving Bitumen – Specification”,
16. Kandhal, P.S. and M.P. Dhir, “Use of Modified Bituminous Binders in India:
Current Imperatives”, Journal of the Indian Roads Congress, October-
17. King, Gayle, H. King, R.D. Pavlovich, A.L. Epps, and Prithvi Kandhal,
“Additives in Asphalt”, Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists, Journal
of Asphalt Paving Technology, Volume 68A, 1999.
18. Brule, B., “Polymer –Modified Asphalt Cements used in Road Construction
Industry: Basic Principles”, Transportation Research Board, Transportation
Research Record 1535, 1996.
19. Kandhal, P.S., “Quality Control Requirements for Using Crumb Rubber
Modified Bitumen (CRMB) in Bituminous mixtures”, Journal of the Indian
Roads Congress, Volume 67-1, 2006.
20. Shuler, T.S., R.D. Pavlovich, J.A. Epps and C.K. Adams, “ Investigations of
Materials and Structural Properties of Asphalt-Rubber Paving Mixtures –
Volume 1”, Texas Transportation Institute Report FHWA/RD-86/027, 1986.
21. Kandhal, P.S. and D.I. Hanson, “Crumb Rubber Modifier Technologies”,
Federal Highway Administration, Crumb Rubber Modifier Workshop Manual,
22. Hanson, D.I., J.A. Epps and R.G. Hicks, “Construction Guidelines for Crumb
Rubber Modified Hot Mix Asphalt”, Federal Highway Administration Report
DTFH61-94-C-00035, August 1996.
23. Indian Roads Congress Publication SP:53, “Tentative Guidelines on Use of
Polymer and Rubber Modified Bitumen in Road Construction”, 2002.
24. Bureau of Indian Standards. IS 15462:2004, “Polymer and Rubber Modified
Bitumen – Specification, 2004.
25. Indian Roads Congress Publication SP:53 - 2010, “Guidelines on Use
Modified Bitumen in Road Construction”, Second Revision, 2010.
26. Bureau of Indian Standards. IS: 217 -1988 Specification for Cutback Bitumen.
Second Revision. Reaffirmed 1999.
27. Indian Roads Congress. IRC: 16 -2008 Standard Specification and Code of
Practice for Prime and Tack Coat, 2008.
28. Kandhal, P. S. and D. B. Mellott. Rational Approach to Design of Bituminous
Stockpile Patching Mixtures. Transportation Research Board, Transportation
Research Record 821, 1981.
29. Wilson, T. P. Strategic Highway Research Program Pothole Repair Materials
and Procedures. TRB, Transportation Research Record 1392, 1993.
30. Kandhal, P.S., “A Simple and Effective Method of Repairing Potholes in
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal is currently Associate Director Emeritus of the National
Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) at Auburn University, Alabama, USA.
NCAT is the largest asphalt road research center in the world. Prior to joining NCAT
in 1988, Prof. Kandhal served as Chief Asphalt Engineer of the Pennsylvania
Department of Transportation for 17 years.
Prof. Kandhal has served as Chairman of the US Transportation Research Board
(TRB) Committee on Bituminous Mixtures for six years. He also served as Chairman
of ASTM Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials, which is responsible for
over 200 standards used worldwide. He is also past President of the Association of
Asphalt Paving Technologists (AAPT), which has members in all continents of the
world. Prof. Kandhal has published over 120 papers in the area of asphalt paving
technology. He also co-authored the first-ever textbook on hot mix asphalt
technology, which is being used in over 25 universities in the US.
Prof. Kandhal has travelled to various countries in Europe, South America, Middle
East, China, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, and Australia to provide training and
consulting services in asphalt (bitumen) road technology. He has been to China three
times to train their highway engineers in building world class roads.
Prof. Kandhal has been a practicing highway engineer in India for 20 years and in the
US for 30 years. In recent years, he has drafted many standards for the Indian Roads
Congress (IRC) including specifications for dense graded bituminous mixes, stone
matrix asphalt (SMA) and readymade pothole patching mix, which have been
adopted. He was also instrumental single-handedly in introducing viscosity grading of
bitumen (VG Grades) in India in lieu of penetration grading in 2005.
In August 2011, Prof. Kandhal was inducted on the “Wall of Honor” established at
the largest asphalt road research center in the world. In April 2012, he received the
Honorary Membership which is considered equivalent to “Lifetime Achievement
Award in Asphalt Road Technology” from the International Association of Asphalt
Paving Technologists during their annual banquet held in Austin, Texas, USA.
First Edition as of 23 September 2014