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An Introduction to Superpave
by Kamyar C . Mahboub, Ph.D., P.E .

Superpave is a product of the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) . This re search effort led to a new system for design of hot mix asphalt based upon mechanisti c
concepts . The Superpave TM has been fully implemented by most of the state highwa y
agencies . Superpave is an acronym for Superior Performing Asphalt Pavements . Th e
Superpave system accounts for materials characteristics in light of climatic and traffi c
considerations (AI, 2001, 1996, 1997) . Perhaps the most significant component of Su perpave is its new asphalt binder grading system, which is designed to link with pave ment performance . The Superpave methodology is believed to be the best available at
this time . However, it is an evolving methodology, and as such there are various asphal t
characterization routines that are under consideration as future additions to th e
Superpave (Witczak, et al. 2002) .

D .1


The asphalt binder grading system in Superpave is called the performance gradin g
(PG) system. This system is a radical departure from the previous viscosity or penetra tion based systems . All PG binders are characterized based upon fundamental engineering parameters . Additionally, Superpave accounts for the impact of climatic factor s
on binder characteristics at both hot and cold temperature regimes. This is a major improvement over previous systems of asphalt binder grading . In addition to climatic
conditions, traffic and aging control the performance of the asphalt pavement . To simulate climate conditions, testing is conducted at three pavement temperatures : hot, intermediate, and cold pavement temperatures . These temperatures are derived fro m
weather data for various geographical locations . The climatic data is further transformed to represent the pavement temperature. To simulate traffic conditions, an average rate of loading was assumed for normal highway traffic speeds . Heavy traffic
conditions may be addressed by selecting a binder corresponding to higher temperature regimes. To simulate binder aging, a new rolling thin-film oven procedure wa s

D .1 Asphalt Binder Grading System 683

Criteria for Thermal


Criterion for
Fatigue Cracking

Criteria for

Criterion for

S (60s) <300MPa
m (60s)>0 .300
Failure strain>0 .01

<5 .OMPa

unaged>1 .OkPa
RTFO >2 .2kP a

Viscosity at 2 0
rpm < 3 .0Pa-sec

Direct Tension *--

Pressure Aging Vessel

Dynamic Shear

Thin Film Oven

Dynamic Shear

Brookfiel d


Pavement Temperature, C
A summary of mechanical tests related to asphalt binder PG grading .

developed under Superpave, which allows for rapid aging/oxidation of an asphal t

binder under simulated conditions .
The Superpave binder grading tests are based upon engineering properties that
control three major modes of distress in asphalt pavements : rutting, fatigue cracking ,
and thermal cracking . The contribution of the asphalt binder to these modes of distres s
is characterized through a battery of rheological tests which are outlined in Figure D1 .
The test data are analyzed in light of climatic conditions for determining the asphal t
binder grade . For example, a PG 64-28 is suitable for an environment where the maxi mum pavement temperature will not exceed 64C, and the minimum pavement temperature will not drop below -28C.
Figure D.1 presents a summary of mechanical tests related to asphalt binder PG grad ing. The direct tension (DT) test is intended to determine the resistance of asphalt to ther mal cracking . Similarly, the Bending Beam Rheometer (BBR) is designed to measure th e
critical stiffness (S) at which the asphalt becomes brittle and susceptible to thermal crack ing (m=slope of stiffness courve) . In order to simulate the most severe case, the thermalcracking analysis is conducted using the asphalt which has gone through the accelerate d
aging process using the pressurized aging vessel (PAV) . The Dynamic Shear Rheomete r
(DSR) is the device that is used for fatigue and rutting characterization . The rheometer
protocols are designed to measure elastic and damping properties of the asphalt binde r
via the complex shear modulus parameter (G*) . The rutting parameter is G*/sin 8 ,

684 Appendix D

An Introduction to Superpav e

where S is the phase angle and is related to damping . On the other hand, the G*sin S i s
used to characterize the fatigue-cracking potential of asphalt . The fatigue characteriza tion is conducted on asphalt, which is aged via the PAV process, while the rutting char acterization is conducted on the asphalt binder that is aged using a Rolling Thin-Fil m
Oven (RTFO) test . Superpave binder grading protocols are outlined in AASHT O
MP1 specifications (AASHTO, 1999a) . Tables D .1 through D .4 present Superpave Per formance grade CPG binder specifications .


Experience has shown that aggregates play a key role in HMA performance, and thi s
was realized by SHRP researchers, which led to the refining of existing procedures t o
fit within the Superpave system . SHRP researchers produced an aggregate gradatio n
specification without the benefit of experimentation to support or verify its formulation . Thus, in lieu of experimentally verifiable protocols, a panel of SHRP experts de veloped a set of recommendations for Superpave aggregate specifications (NCHR P
Project 9-14,1997) . This led to a number of controversial issues including flat and elon gated aggregates, and the restricted zone .
D .2 .1 Flat and Elongated Aggregate s

The recommendation for flat and elongated aggregate content was that, for high traffi c
(greater than 10 6 equivalent single axle loadsESALs), no more than 10% of th e
aggregate particles retained on the 4 .75 mm sieve should have a ratio of maximumto-minimum dimension greater than 5 :1 (Cominsky et al., 1994) .
Vavrik et al. (1999) recommended performance based testing as a requirement to
establish if the use and breakdown of F&E particles had a detrimental effect on mixture performance . Brown et al. (1997) evaluated the effect of flat and elongated parti cles on SMA mixes . Stephens and Sinha (1978) studied the significance of flat an d
elongated particles on the characteristics of bituminous mixtures . In a mix design, the y
recommended 40-70 % cubical aggregates, 5-45 % flat aggregates and 5-45 To elongated aggregates . Oduroh et al. (2000) reported that coarse aggregates of 3 :1 size ratio
at 40% and higher had the highest tendency to lie flat (horizontally) during HM A
compaction . Overall, Superpave laboratory mixture performance tests did not sho w
any significant changes in mixture properties due to the presence of up to 40% of 3 : 1
flat and elongated aggregates .
D .2 .2 Coarse Aggregate Angularity

The aggregate interlock and internal friction is responsible for the HMA rutting resis tance. Aggregate angularity is quantified as the percent by weight of aggregates large r
than 4 .75 mm with one or more fractured faces . The standard test for measuring coarse
aggregate angularity is ASTM D 5821 : Standard Test Method for Determining the Percentage of Fractured Particles in Coarse Aggregate . Superpave specifies a higher degre e
of aggregate angularity for higher traffic . This is illustrated in Table D.S .

Table D.1 Superpave Specifications for Rutting

Superpave Binder Specifications

Average 7-day Maximum Pavement
Design Temperature, C
Minimum Pavement
Design Temperature, C
Flash Point Temp, T48 : minimum, C
Viscosity, ASTM D 4402 :
Maximum, 3-Pa-s (3000 cP) .
Test Temp, C
Dynamic Shear, TP 5
G*/sin S, Minimum, 1 .00 kPa Test Temperature@ 10 rad/s,C
Rolling Thin Film Oven (T240)
Mass Loss, Maximum, %
Dynamic Shear, TP5 :
G*/sin 8, Minimum, 2 .20 kP a
Test Temp @ 10 rad/sec,C

Specification Limit s
for Rutting

Table D.2 Superpave Specifications for Fatigue Cracking

Superpave Binder Specification s

PAV Aging Temp, C
Dynamic Shear, TP5 :
G*sin 8, Maximum, 5000 kP a
Test Temperature@ 10 rad/s, C
Physical Hardening
Creep Stiffness, TP1 :
S, Maximum, 300 MPa
m-value, Minimum, 0 .300
Test Temperature@ 60sec, C
Direct Tension, TP3 :
Failure Strain, Minimum, 1 .0 %
Test Temperature@ 1 .0mm/min, C

Superpav e
Specification Limit
for Fatigue

68 5

Table D.3 Superpave Specifications for Thermal Crackin g

Superpave Binder Specifications
PAV Aging Temp, C
Dynamic Shear, TP5 :
G*sin S, Maximum, 5000 kPa
Test Temperature@ 10 rad/s, C
Physical Hardening
Creep Stiffness, TP1 :
S, Maximum, 300 MPa 4
m-value, Minimum, 0 .300
Test Temperature@ 60sec, C
Direct Tension, TP3 :
Failure Strain, Minimum, 1.0 %
Test Temperature@ 1 .0mm/min, C

Superpav e
Specification Limit s
for Thermal

Table D.4 Superpave Asphalt Binder Grade s

High Temperature Grades

Performanc e
Designation :
Example : PG 64-22



Low Temperature Grades (C )


-34, -40, -4 6


-10, -16, -22, -28, -34, -40, -4 6






-10, -16, -22, -28, -34, -40




-10,-16,-22,-28,-3 4

Hot Temp

Cold Tem p

D .2

Aggregates in HMA 68 7


Superpave Coarse Aggregate Angularity

Requirement s

million ESALs

Minimum Fracture d
Surface Requirements (% )

<0 .3

100 mm

D > 100 m m












Note. "85/80" means that 85% of the coarse aggregate has one fractured face, and 80% has two fractured faces . D = depth from surfac e

D .2 .3 Fine Aggregate Angularity

Fine aggregate contribution to the internal friction of HMA is quantified as the per cent of air voids present in loosely compacted fine aggregates (smaller than 2.36 mm) .
Higher void content in this case reflects a more textured fine aggregate . The standar d
test for measuring this property is AASHTO T 304 : Uncompacted Void ContentMetho d
A . Superpave specifies a higher degree of fine aggregate angularity for higher traffic .
This is illustrated in Tables D .6 .
D .2 .4 Aggregate Clay Content

Clay is a highly undesirable material in HMA . The clay content is characterized via a
suspension in the water test : AASHTO T 176 : Plastic Fines in Graded Aggregates an d
Soils by Use of the Sand Equivalent Test . The clay content is controlled using a mini mum sand equivalent criteria . Superpave requires higher sand equivalent (i .e . lowe r
clay content) for higher traffic . This is illustrated in Table D.7 .

Superpave Fine Aggregate Angularity


million ESALs

<0 .3



Minimum Uncompacted Fine

Aggregat e
Air Voids Requirements (% )





100 m m


Note. Air voids criteria are presented as percent air voids i n

loosely compacted fine aggregate. D = depth from surfac e


Appendix D

An Introduction to Superpav e
TABLE D .7 Superpave Fine Aggregat e

Angularity Requirement s
Traffic, million

Sand Equivalent, minimum

<0 .3


D .2 .5 Aggregate Toughnes s

Toughness is characterized using the Los Angeles Abrasion test . The procedure is
described in AASHTO T 96 : Resistance to Abrasion of Small Size Coarse Aggregate b y
Use of the Los Angeles Machine . This test simulates the resistance of coarse aggregat e
to abrasion and mechanical impact during handling, construction, and in service . The
test is based upon comparing the coarse aggregate gradation before and after subjecting the aggregate to a mechanical degradation test . The test measures the percent loss
in the coarse aggregate . The percent loss should be less than 35-45% .
D .2 .6 Aggregate Soundness

Soundness is the percent loss of materials from an aggregate blend during the sodiu m
or magnesium sulfate soundness test . The procedure is stated in AASHTO T 104 :
Soundness of Aggregate by Use of Sodium Sulfate or Magnesium Sulfate . This test estimates the resistance of aggregate to weathering while in service . It can be performe d
on both coarse and fine aggregate . The test is performed alternately by exposing an aggregate sample to repeated immersions in saturated solutions of sodium or magnesiu m
sulfate each followed by oven drying . One immersion and drying process is considere d
one soundness cycle . During the drying phase, salts precipitate in the permeable voi d
space of the aggregate . Upon re-immersion, the salt rehydrates and exerts internal expansive forces that simulate the expansive forces of freezing water . The test result i s
the total percent loss over various sieve intervals for a required number of cycles . Maximum-loss values range from approximately 1020% for five cycles .
D .2 .7 Aggregate Gradatio n

Superpave aggregate gradation requirements posed several controversial issues . For example, the initial versions of Superpave included a "restricted zone" in the gradation. Thi s
zone was identified on a 0 .45-power gradation chart to define a permissible gradation . Th e
0.45-power chart (Figure D2) is a common format for plotting aggregate gradation, be cause it can easily illustrate the maximum density line as depicted in Figure D2 . It was initially hypothesized that gradations that violate the restricted zone possess weak aggregat e
skeletons which may exhibit tenderness during construction and poor performance . How ever, recent research (TRB, 2002) suggests that "Independent results from the literatur e

D .3 Asphalt Mix Design 68 9



.6 1 .18 2 .36


9 .5

12 .5

19 . 0

Sieve Size, mm Raised to 0 .45 Powe r

0.45-Power curve .

clearly indicated that no relationship exists between the Superpave restricted zone and
HMA rutting or fatigue performance ." This report further recommends that perhap s
all references to the restricted zone should be deleted from AASHTO MP2 (1999b )
and AASHTO PP28 (1999c) .
The maximum density gradation represents a tight aggregate packing . This typ e
of gradation does not necessarily produce the best performing HMA . Superpav e
gradations are recommended to have a strong aggregate interlock, which is common i n
more open mixes.

D .3


The Superpave mix design is based upon mixture volumetric properties at a specifie d
level of compaction . These volumetric properties are assumed to produce well performin g
mixtures (AASHTO MP2 : Superpave Volumetric Mix Design) . Advanced Superpave
protocols are available for mixture performance analysis : Standard Test Method fo r
Determining the Permanent Deformation and Fatigue Cracking Characteristics of Hot Mi x
Asphalt (HMA) Using the Simple Shear Test (SST) Device, AASHTO TP7 Provisional
Standards, 1998 .
The mixture compaction is accomplished via the Superpave gyratory compacto r
(SGC), and the resulting volumetric properties are used to select the optimum asphal t
content . The Superpave volumetric terms are defined in Table D .B .
D .3 .1 Superpave Laboratory Compactio n

The Superpave gyratory compactor (SGC) is designed to produce specimens in th e

laboratory which exhibit particle orientation similar to the field compacted mixtures.

690 Appendix D

An Introduction to Superpav e


Superpave Volumetric Terminology


Abbreviated Term
Pmass percent
Gspecific gravit y
sstone (aggregate )
e effective

Paramete r

Ps percent of mixture which is ston e

Gsb bulk specific gravity of ston e
Gsa apparent specific gravity of stone
GSe effective specific gravity of ston e

Asphalt binder

Pmass percent
Gspecific gravit y
bbinder (asphalt )
a absorbed
e effectiv e

Pb percent of mixture which is binde r

Pbe P ercent effective binde r
Pba P ercent binder absorbe d
Gb specific gravity of binder


Gspecific gravity
bbul k
m maximu m
m mixtur e
Vvolume percent

G mb bulk gravity of mi x
Gmm maximum theoretical gravity of mi x
Va volume of air in compacted mi x
VMAvoids in mineral aggregat e
VFAvoids filled with asphalt
D :B ratiodust to binder ratio

This is achieved with a mold gyrating 30 revolutions per minute at 1 .25-degree pivo t
angle at the compaction pressure of 600 kPa . The number of revolutions are adjuste d
to produce a target density.
There are a number of issues surrounding the Superpave laboratory compaction . The main concern is the relationship between laboratory and field compaction (Blankenship, et al ., 1994) . For example, Peterson et al. (2003) hav e
suggested a number of modifications in order to improve upon the existin g
Superpave compaction protocols . These modifications include revisiting the angl e
of gyration and compaction pressure . Additionally, there are standardization tool s
and techniques which are becoming available for the calibration of the angle o f
gyration .

D .3 .2

Mix Design Criteri a

Once the proper aggregate and grade of asphalt binder have been selected, the nex t
step is to produce a mixture that meets the Superpave criteria . The goal of the mix
design process is to determine the optimum asphalt content corresponding to a set o f
Superpave volumetric criteria . The most critical criterion is a 4% air content in the lab oratory compacted specimens . Additionally, voids in the mineral aggregate (VMA )
and voids filled with asphalt (VFA) are checked . Superpave volumetric characteristics
are determined at various compaction levels, which correspond to various traffic level s
in the field . AASHTO reports the required compactive effort for various traffi c
(AASHTO, 1999b and 1999c) .

D .3 Asphalt Mix Design 69 1

The mixtures are compacted to Ni , Nd and Nf in accordance with the following :
N ;Number of initial gyrations : This parameter indicates a potential for tenderness in the mix during construction .
N d Design number of gyrations : The number of gyrations for which the mix i s
designed to produce 4% air content .
Nf Final number of gyrations : The final number of gyrations is designed to simulate the post-compaction densification due to traffic . A mixture demonstratin g
less than 2 % air content at this point would be susceptible to rutting .
N Maximum number of gyrations that should never be exceeded .
The volumetric properties of trial batches at 0 .5% asphalt content increments ar e
measured, and the optimum asphalt content is selected based upon an air content of 4
% (AASHTO MP-2) .
Finally, the moisture sensitivity of the mixture is determined in accordance wit h
AASHTO T283 . This test is designed to measure the effect of moisture and cycles o f
freezethaw on a mixture containing 7 % air . The indirect tensile strength test is use d
to quantify the laboratory-simulated moisture damage . A strength ratio of 80% or
higher is normally required . A strength ratio below 80% hints at a potential susceptibility to stripping.

Example D .1 :
A Superpave mixture was prepared using for trial batches at 0.5% asphalt content increments .
All volumetric and compaction data are presented in the table below :
2- Air (%) at Nd
3- Gmm
4- VMA (%)
5- VFA (%)
6- % Gmm at Ni
7- % Gmm at Nm

Batch #1

Batch #2

Batch #3

6 .1
2 .467
15 .6
62 .1
95 .4

5 .0
4 .1
15 .1
72 .7
86 .1
97 .1

5 .5
3 .0
2 .430
15 .2
81 .5
87 .0
98 .6

Batch #4
2 .0
2 .41 0
15 . 3
89 . 1
88 . 1
99 .5


Using an interpolation routine or a graphical solution will reveal that 5 .1% would b e
the optimum asphalt content at which the 4% air content requirement is satisfied. As a cross
check, all other volumetric properties are reviewed at this optimum asphalt content to ensur e
their compliance with Superpave requirements .
Superpave has put the asphalt mix design and analysis on a rational platform . Ther e
are many who may argue that Superpave is not purely mechanistic . However, most

692 Appendix D

An Introduction to Superpav e

would agree that features such as the PG binder systems and mixture analysis protocols, are major improvements over the empirical methods of the past . The PG binde r
system incorporates the climatic information in the binder selection process . The volu metric properties of HMA are used for Superpave mix design . Many of these properties lend themselves to quality control measurements .
Protocols related to Superpave aggregates were developed based upon literatur e
review rather than sound experimentation . This resulted in many early, less-than-per fect aggregate specifications, which were later adjusted . Additionally, there are ne w
procedures being developed in order to do a better job with addressing modifie d
binders, recycled asphalt, and waste materials in HMA .
A mechanistic mix design methodology provides us with the opportunity to inte grate asphalt mix design and flexible pavement structural design (Mahboub and Little ,
1990) . Superpave is hoped to link with the latest AASHTO pavement design guide in a
mechanistic manner .


D .1 What is Superpave? Why is it innovative ?

D.2 What is the PG system? Why is it considered an improvement over the viscosit y
and penetration systems ?
D.3 What are the critical factors affecting asphalt performance in pavements ?
D.4 What are the engineering parameters used in rating the asphalt binders? Ho w
are these parameters tested in Superpave ?
D.5 For an asphalt pavement, the maximum consecutive seven day pavement temperature is 66C and single event coldest temperature is -20C . The design
ESALs for this pavement is 10,000,000, and traffic speed is standard . Select a P G
grade for this pavement .
D.6 Can Superpave be used for both base and surface mixes ?
D.7 Use the maximum gradation chart in Figure D .3, and draw a typical Superpav e
surface mix gradation.
D .8 List the steps in the Superpave mix design.