Asphalt Modifiers

Some asphalt cements require modification in order to meet specifications. Asphalt cement modification has been practiced for over 50 years but has received added attention in the past decade or so. The added attention can be attributed to the following factors (Roberts et al., 1996[1]):

  • Increased demand on HMA pavements. Traffic volume, loads and tire pressures have increased substantially in recent years, which can cause increased rutting and cracking. Many modifiers can improve the asphalt binder’s stiffness at normal service temperatures to increase rut resistance, while decreasing its stiffness at low temperatures to improve its resistance to thermal cracking.
  • Superpave asphalt binder specifications. Superpave asphalt binder specifications developed in the 1990s require asphalt binders to meet stiffness requirements at both high and low temperatures. In regions with extreme climatic conditions this is not possible without asphalt binder modification.
  • Environmental and economic issues. It is both environmentally and economically sound to recycle waste and industrial byproducts (such as tires, roofing shingles, glass and ash) in order to gain added benefit. Thus, when they can benefit the final product without creating an environmental liability they are often used as additives in HMA.
  • Public agency willingness to fund higher-cost asphalt additives. Modified asphalt cement is usually higher in initial cost than unmodified asphalt cement, but it should provide a longer service life with less maintenance.

There are numerous binder additives available on the market today. The benefits of modified asphalt cement can only be realized by a judicious selection of the modifier(s); not all modifiers are appropriate for all applications. In general, asphalt cement should be modified to achieve the following types of improvements (Roberts et al., 1996[1]):

  • Lower stiffness (or viscosity) at the high temperatures associated with construction. This facilitates pumping of the liquid asphalt binder as well as mixing and compaction of HMA.
  • Higher stiffness at high service temperatures. This will reduce rutting and shoving.
  • Lower stiffness and faster relaxation properties at low service temperatures. This will reduce thermal cracking.
  • Increased adhesion between the asphalt binder and the aggregate in the presence of moisture. This will reduce the likelihood of stripping. Figure 1 shows two aggregate samples from the same source after they have been coated with asphalt binder. The asphalt binder used with the sample on the left contain no anti-stripping modifier, which resulted in almost no aggregate-asphalt binder adhesion. The asphalt binder used with the sample on the right contains 0.5% (by weight of asphalt binder) of an anti-stripping modifier, which results in good aggregate-asphalt binder adhesion.

Figure 1. Anti-stripping modifier example.

Common Types of Asphalt Modifiers

The following table lists some common asphalt cement and HMA modifiers and their general purpose/use.

Table 1. Asphalt Cement and HMA Modifiers (from Roberts et al., 1996[1])
Type General Purpose or Use Generic Examples
Filler Fill voids and therefore reduce optimum asphalt content
Meet aggregate gradation specifications
Increase stability
Improve the asphalt cement-aggregate bond
Mineral filler
crusher fines
portland cement
fly ash
Carbon black
Extender Substituted for a portion of asphalt cement (typically between 20 – 35 % by weight of total asphalt binder) to decrease the amount of asphalt cement required Sulfur
Rubber Increase HMA stiffness at high service temperatures
Increase HMA elasticity at medium service temperatures to resist fatigue cracking
Decrease HMA stiffness at low temperatures to resist thermal cracking
(see Figure 2)
Natural latex
Synthetic latex
(e.g., Polychloroprene latex)
Block copolymer
(e.g., Styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS))
Reclaimed rubber
(e.g., crumb rubber from old tires)
Plastic Polyethylene/polypropylene
Ethylene acrylate copolymer
Ethyl-vinyl-acetate (EVA)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Ethylene propylene or EPDM
Rubber-Plastic Combinations Blends of rubber and plastic
Fiber Improving tensile strength of HMA mixtures
Improving cohesion of HMA mixtures
Permit higher asphalt content without significant increase in draindown
Rock wool
Oxidant Increase HMA stiffness after the HMA is placed Manganese salts
Antioxidant Increase the durability of HMA mixtures by retarding their oxidation Lead compounds
Calcium salts
Hydrocarbon Restore aged asphalt cements to current specifications
Increase HMA stiffness in general
Recycling and rejuvenating oils
Hard and natural asphalts
Antistripping Agents Minimize stripping of asphalt cement from aggregates Amines
Waste Materials Replace aggregate or asphalt volume with a cheaper waste product Roofing shingles
Recycled tires


Figure 2. Effect of polymer modifiers on asphalt binder viscosity (after Epps, 2002).

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Roberts, F.L.; Kandhal, P.S.; Brown, E.R.; Lee, D.Y. and Kennedy, T.W.  (1996).  Hot Mix Asphalt Materials, Mixture Design, and Construction.  National Asphalt Pavement Association Education Foundation.  Lanham, MD.