How is Asphalt Made?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Most of us are familiar with asphalt. We see it used on our roadways, as the cover for jogging paths, and often the material of choice for parking lots. Here are a few facts about how it is made, as well as some examples of the different types used today.

Asphalt is spread after it has been heated to the point that it has a tar-like consistency.
Asphalt is spread after it has been heated to the point that it has a tar-like consistency.

While we often refer to the road covering we know as asphalt, the fact of the matter is that the substance would be more accurately referred to as an asphalt compound. Asphalt itself is a hydrocarbon mixture that is heated until it has the consistency of tar. Depending on the amount of heating, it may take on a relatively solid state, or become the consistency of a thick liquid. With some uses, such as in road building, the semisolid form is mixed in with other elements such as crushed stone, sand, or gravel to make up the compound that is used to provide cover on highways and city streets.

When asphalt is heated to a high temperature, it can be used to create asphalt shingles.
When asphalt is heated to a high temperature, it can be used to create asphalt shingles.

The hydrocarbon material that is used to create asphalt is actually derived from the waste material left over after the manufacture of gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuels. Essentially, it is a by-product of the residue that is left behind after the more desirable components of crude oil and petroleum have been harvested. One of these by-products, bitumen, is sometimes referred to as asphalt oil.

Asphalt is a byproduct that is left over by the refining process that creates gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel.
Asphalt is a byproduct that is left over by the refining process that creates gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel.

Along with being derived from petroleums and being an essential binding element in the cover used for roadways, asphalt has been used to patch or cover a worn roadway, such as a city street. In addition, when heated to a high temperature, it forms the basis for the creation of asphalt roofing and shingles, which have been used for years to make roofs of homes more secure and water repellent. Heating the material to the proper temperature and then adding in cement to the mixture also makes asphalt concrete.

Many parking lots are paved with asphalt.
Many parking lots are paved with asphalt.

There are some recycling programs that are now using asphalt along with rubber chips made from old tires to create materials for sidewalks and walls, similar to the way concrete has been used for years. The binding capabilities of this material are probably the most important aspect of the substance, along with the fact that once applied, it takes a long time to wear away.

Asphalt is designed to withstand several tons of weight from traffic.
Asphalt is designed to withstand several tons of weight from traffic.

Interestingly enough, the word asphalt has some Greek origins, with a rough translation of the term being to prevent something from falling down or collapsing. Certainly, asphaltenes that have been used for our roadways prevents the collapse of the roadway system from daily use, as well as protecting the roofs of many structures from collapsing due to the weather conditions. Asphalt caulking has been used in times past to repair leaks in boats and ships, and while the use of shingles made from it is on the decline, they are still the roof covering of choice for many homeowners.

There are recycling programs that use asphalt and rubber from recycled tires to create materials for sidewalks and walls.
There are recycling programs that use asphalt and rubber from recycled tires to create materials for sidewalks and walls.
The semi-solid form of asphalt is favored for paving roads.
The semi-solid form of asphalt is favored for paving roads.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

anon305877

I applied Latex-ite Optimum asphalt paint to my concrete floor and it won't dry. How can I remove the asphalt?

anon134154

I am curious. Can mixed waste solvent bottoms be used as an additive to help in the production of ashphalts and if so what would the demand for bottoms be?

anon120903

The article was really effective for me. I am researching a test question that involves what would happen if liquid oxygen spilled on asphalt? I needed to know the make up of asphalt to give a good answer.

anon23656

I sure would love to see some kid-friendly versions of these articles. say 2nd to 7th grade level.

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