All About Asphalt

It is known by many names: bitumen, blacktop, tar, asphalt, and pitch. In the world of Utah landscaping, with U-carts, flagstone, and fire pit glass, we simply call it “asphalt.” Thanks to its common uses on parking lots, highways, and playgrounds, each of us has a connection to asphalt going as far back as childhood and will continue with us for the rest of our lives.  But how much does the average person really know about asphalt — what it is and how it can be used? There’s a science to the stuff that we consider each time we are hired for a job. Understanding that science — the behavior of asphalt, as it were — makes our team at Asphalt Materials one of the finest in industry.

Bring on the Bitumen

As landscape professionals, with our rakes in hand and followed by our concrete cart tow-behinds, when we talk about where asphalt comes from we are nearly always referring to how it is man-made. But it is important to acknowledge that asphalt can be found in nature as well. In fact, there are entire lakes of the stuff that are hundreds of acres across and hundreds of feet deep — the most famous example being Pitch Lake in Trinidad. In trying to categorize exactly how asphalt is made in nature, it has been said that “it is almost impossible to separate and identify all the different molecules of asphalt, because the number of molecules with different chemical structures is extremely large.”  That being said, geologists have been able to isolate the main players, namely:
  • Naphthalene, a molecule made of carbon and hydrogen (and being the main ingredient in modern mothballs).
  • Polar aromatics, which is a chemist’s way of describing the compounds made from carbon bonds.
  • Sulfur
  • Nickel
  • And much more...
Some of these components have a greater presence than others but together they create the black hardtop we’ve been walking over our entire lives. This mixture can be found naturally in deserts (commonly called “tar sands”) or in bodies of water (like the Dead Sea). When mixing the asphalt in a plant, different temperatures and the use of a bonding agent when it’s poured will affect its flexibility, durability, and strength.

Interesting Behavior

As professionals of Utah landscaping, we do more than simply rent out U-carts to those who have to work in the yard for the weekend; we have spent our careers learning about asphalt and its characteristics.  We’ve all seen asphalt streets lined with cracks, whose imperfections have been hastily patched over with tar lines. This isn’t always an indicator of poor work; some stress marks are to be expected on a road over time. But using the right type of asphalt in the right situations will do a lot to prevent unnecessary road damage.  Damage most often occurs through:
    • Overuse by heavy traffic
    • The asphalt mixture getting old
    • The average moisture levels in the climate
  • Temperature changes over time
When consulting with our team, we can help you know how your asphalt will hold up long-term as well as which type of mixture is best for you.

Getting Started

At the end of the day, we appreciate the role asphalt plays in our society so much that we included it in the name of our company. With the right mixture, made at the right temperature, and poured in the right way, asphalt can be the best paver you’ll ever use. If you’re unsure whether asphalt is what you need, as opposed to a concrete car tow-behind, give us a call. We’ll make sure your project looks beautiful now and long into the future.