Asphalt is a ubiquitous material that we see and use every day, but have you ever stopped to wonder about its origins? When was asphalt invented, and how has it evolved over time? In this blog post, we will explore the history of asphalt and its fascinating journey from a simple natural material to a crucial component of our modern infrastructure. We will also delve into the various applications of asphalt, its composition, and its environmental impact. Let’s uncover the fascinating history of this versatile material and see, “When was asphalt invented?”

What is Natural Asphalt?

Natural asphalt, also known as “asphaltite,” is a naturally occurring organic substance and forms from the remnants of ancient marine organisms such as plankton and algae. It is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons, including asphaltenes, resins, and oils. Natural asphalt is in deposits near oil shale and sandstone formations, often near petroleum deposits.

Asphalt occurs naturally in many area. Some of the largest deposits of natural asphalt are in Venezuela, where the famous La Brea tar pits are located. Other countries with significant natural asphalt deposits include Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Canada, and Russia.

The specific characteristics of natural asphalt can vary depending on its location and the geological conditions. In its natural state, asphalt can be solid or semi-solid and has a black or brown color.

The history of asphalt includes centuries of use purposes, including waterproofing, road construction, and as an adhesive.

What Applications Use Asphalt Products?

Asphalt products have a wide range of applications in various industries. Here are some of the most common applications of asphalt products:

1. Asphalt paving and Road Construction: As the most common material for road construction, asphalt paves highways, local streets, parking lots, and other types of roadways. Asphalt pavements offer a smooth, durable, and safe driving surface.

2. Roofing: Asphalt as a roofing material, in the form of asphalt shingles, is common in residential and commercial buildings. Asphalt shingles are durable, weather-resistant, and easy to install.

3. Waterproofing: Asphalt is a waterproofing material for roofs, foundations, and other structures. It is an effective barrier against water infiltration in both horizontal and vertical applications.

4. Pavement Preservation: Asphalt products are common in pavement preservation treatments, such as sealcoating and crack sealing, to extend the life of existing pavements and prevent further deterioration.

5. Athletic Surfaces: Asphalt is a popular material for the construction of athletic surfaces such as running tracks, tennis courts, and playgrounds. It provides a smooth and durable surface that can withstand heavy use and harsh weather conditions.

6. Industrial Applications: Asphalt products are common in industrial applications, including the manufacturing of adhesives, paints, and roofing materials.

Overall, asphalt products offer a wide range of benefits, including durability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness, making them a popular choice for many different applications.

Who First Started Making Asphalt Pavement?

The first known use of asphalt pavement dates back to ancient Babylon around 625 BC, where it paved streets. However, the modern development of asphalt pavement cam about through a Scottish engineer named John Loudon McAdam.

In the early 19th century, McAdam developed a new method of road construction that involved layering broken stones in a specific size range on a well-drained base, which became known as “macadam” roads. While this was an improvement over previous road construction methods, McAdam realized that the use of a binding material would further enhance the durability and stability of roads.

McAdam experimented with various binding materials and found that natural asphalt, which was available in some areas of the United Kingdom, was the most effective. In 1815, he began using natural asphalt to bind the stones on the surface of his roads, creating what “asphaltic concrete” or “asphalt concrete.” This new type of road surface proved to be highly durable and cost-effective and quickly gained popularity throughout Europe and North America.

In the following years, asphalt pavement research by other engineers and entrepreneurs further developed asphalt technology, leading to the development of new asphalt mixes and paving techniques that are still in use today.

Asphalt History in the United States

Belgian chemist, Edmund J. DeSmedt played a significant role in the history of asphalt technology. He introduced the use of asphalt as a paving material in the United States in the late 19th century.

DeSmedt was born in Ghent, Belgium, in 1853 and earned his degree in chemistry from Ghent University. Later, he went on to work for the Belgian government as a chemist. In 1876, he moved to the United States and became a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina.

During his time in the United States, DeSmedt became interested in the use of asphalt for paved roads. At the time, most roads in the United States were dirt or gravel, and there was little experience making asphalt roads. However, DeSmedt believed that asphalt roads had great potential as durable and long-lasting roadways.

Before De Smedt’s invention, asphalt was primarily a roofing material. However, he recognized the potential for asphalt as a durable and long-lasting paving material.

Asphalt Becomes a Household Name

In his patent application, De Smedt described a process for refining asphalt that involved heating it to high temperatures and adding a solvent to remove impurities. This process resulted in a pure form of asphalt that was suitable for use in road construction.

De Smedt’s invention was a significant breakthrough in the asphalt industry. Prior to his patent, there was little standardization in the production of asphalt, and the quality of the material varied widely. De Smedt’s process helped to create a uniform product that was suitable for use in a wide range of road construction projects.

In the years that followed De Smedt’s patent, the use of asphalt as a paving material became increasingly common. Asphalt was more durable and longer-lasting than traditional road materials, and it quickly became a popular choice for road builders.

In 1878, DeSmedt became inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia. In this role, he oversaw the construction of several asphalt pavement projects, including the first asphalt pavement on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. This project was a success, and soon other cities began to adopt asphalt pavement as a viable alternative to traditional road materials.

DeSmedt’s work helped to establish asphalt as a popular paving material in the United States. He continued to promote the use of asphalt throughout his career and became known as the “father of asphalt paving” in the United States. In addition to his work in the asphalt industry, DeSmedt also served as the chief chemist for the District of Columbia and was a professor of chemistry at several universities.

Today, asphalt pavement is a ubiquitous feature of the American landscape, bringing a lasting impact on the infrastructure of the United States and the world.

Does All Asphalt Come From Natural Substances?

The majority of asphalt today comes from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel. This type of asphalt is “petroleum asphalt” or “asphalt cement.”

Modern asphalt facilities make asphalt paving material by refining crude oil, which involves separating and purifying various hydrocarbons to produce a material that is suitable for use in asphalt mixtures. The quality and properties of refined petroleum asphalt can vary depending on the source and refining process used.

In addition to petroleum asphalt, there are also various types of synthetic asphalt, a combination of natural and synthetic materials. These types of asphalt commonly make up specialty applications, such as high-performance racing tracks, airport runways, and other demanding applications.

Overall, while natural asphalt still plays a role in some niche applications, the majority of asphalt today comes from non-renewable petroleum sources. However, efforts are underway to develop more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional petroleum-based asphalt.

What Are the Ingredients of Asphalt Pavement?

Asphalt pavement, also known as asphalt concrete, is a mixture of asphalt binder, aggregate (such as sand, gravel, or crushed stone), and filler material (such as limestone dust). The exact composition and proportions of these materials can vary depending on the specific application and performance requirements.

The asphalt binder used in pavement construction is typically a petroleum-based product from refining crude oil. This binder is the glue that holds the aggregate together and provides the pavement with its strength and durability. The quality of the asphalt binder can vary depending on the source and refining process used.

The aggregate used in asphalt pavement can also vary in size, shape, and composition. It also varies in usage according to strength, durability, and ability to resist wear and tear. A hot-mix asphalt plant coats the aggregate with the asphalt binder. They then heat and mix it together to form a uniform mixture.

They then add filler material to the asphalt mixture to improve its performance and reduce the amount of asphalt binder needed. This filler material can be a variety of substances, such as limestone dust, fly ash, or other mineral powders.

Local contractors then place the mix onto a prepared base or subgrade. They compact and smooth the mixture to create a smooth, uniform surface. Over time, the pavement may require maintenance and rehabilitation to maintain its performance and extend its service life.

What Percentage of Asphalt Projects Use RAP?

According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), asphalt plants recycle about 99% of asphalt pavement reclaimed from old roads and parking lots. In fact, the use of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) is quite common in the asphalt industry.

In 2019, NAPA estimated that the use of RAP in asphalt mixtures saved approximately 21.2 million barrels of liquid asphalt binder. This represents a significant contribution to the conservation of natural resources and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with asphalt production.

While the percentage of RAP used in individual asphalt projects can vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the availability of RAP in the local area and the performance requirements of the pavement, the use of RAP is increasingly becoming a standard practice in the asphalt industry due to its economic and environmental benefits.

Why Consider Asphalt as Your Pavement Choice?

There are several reasons why you might consider asphalt as your pavement choice:

1. Durability: Ability to withstand heavy traffic and extreme weather conditions. Properly designed and constructed asphalt pavements can last for 20 years or more with proper maintenance.

2. Cost-effectiveness: Asphalt pavement is typically less expensive than other types of pavement, such as concrete, especially when considering the long-term maintenance costs.

3. Quick Installation: Efficient installation, reducing the amount of time of disruption at the construction site.

4. Smooth Surface: Asphalt pavements provide a smooth and quiet surface that is ideal for driving, cycling, and other activities.

5. Sustainability: Asphalt pavements made with recycled materials, such as reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) reduce the need for virgin materials and conserve natural resources.

6. Safety: Asphalt pavements provide excellent skid resistance and reduce the risk of hydroplaning.

Overall, asphalt pavement offers a cost-effective, durable, and sustainable solution for a wide range of applications, from residential driveways to heavy-duty highways and airport runways. When properly designed, constructed, and maintained, asphalt pavements can provide a long-lasting and reliable surface that meets the needs of a variety of users.

Experienced Asphalt Contractors, Columbia, SC

Whether your project involves laying asphalt for a driveway, parking lot, or road, AMP Paving can do your project efficiently for a quick turnaround time. With careful engineering for drainage and the use of recycled material in our asphalt mixes, we also work with an eye toward sustainability.

As an experienced team of asphalt contractors in Columbia, SC, we deliver high-quality results that meet or exceed industry standards. We use state-of-the-art equipment and the latest technology to ensure that our asphalt paving projects are on-time, and on-budget.

With our years of experience paving Columbia, South Carolina, we have the knowledge and expertise to tackle projects of any size or complexity. Contact us today to get a free quote for your project and learn more about how we can help with your asphalt paving needs.