Tag Archives: cracking

Low-Temperature Cracking Test Produces Repeatable, Reliable Results

Researchers ran a sophisticated low-temperature asphalt cracking performance test at multiple labs to study the test, its variability and repeatability, and its additional promise in studying reflective cracking susceptibility of overlays. Results put MnDOT closer to implementing test specifications for low-temperature cracking test for pavement mixes.

What Was the Need?

In very cold temperatures, asphalt pavement shrinks and fractures as it pulls from its various restraint points. Low-temperature or thermal cracking is the most widespread distress found in asphalt pavements in cold climates like Minnesota’s.

Pavement designers select an asphalt binder performance grade (PG) based on expected seven-day average maximum and minimum temperatures that the asphalt pavement is expected to experience. A PG 58-28 binder, for example, is supposed to maintain good performance at maximum temperatures of 58 degrees Celsius (136 degrees Fahrenheit) and minimum temperatures of -28 degrees Celsius (-18 degrees Fahrenheit).

PG binder ratings and tests do not characterize asphalt mixtures precisely because PG does not account for aggregate types and gradations, recycled material in the mix, and plant and field aging of asphalt mixtures. Asphalt mixtures must be tested at relevant temperatures.

“The disc-shaped compact tension fracture energy provides a good basis as a reflective cracking performance predictor, as well as for thermal cracking,” said Eshan Dave, associate professor, University of New Hampshire Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

For MnDOT to fully implement performance-based specifications for asphalt mixtures, it must better understand mechanistic tests of the susceptibility of asphalt mixtures to certain kinds of stresses. The disc-shaped compact tension (DCT) test has emerged from a decade of study as the best tool for measuring fracture susceptibility of asphalt mixtures at low temperatures and other conditions. Recommendations from a 2015 pilot DCT low-temperature fracture study included repeatability testing trials for DCT testing of low-temperature fracture energy.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this research was to evaluate the DCT test to support its use in performance-based specifications for examining fracture properties within asphalt mixtures at cold temperatures. Researchers would develop a fracture energy database for Minnesota asphalt mixtures, refine the test as necessary, characterize the variability and reproducibility of test results by testing mixtures at multiple labs, recommend test specifications or parameters, and evaluate the potential for DCT testing of the susceptibility of asphalt overlay mixtures to reflective cracking.   

What Did We Do?

Researchers identified pavement and overlay projects with asphalt mixtures that could be sampled for DCT testing. Then they compiled MnDOT data on asphalt pavement construction projects, mixture designs and DCT test results, developing a single database for this information to be updated continuously and managed by MnDOT’s Office of Materials and Road Research.   

Using this database, researchers selected 16 asphalt projects representative of pavement and overlay mixtures, and gathered samples of mixtures from each of these projects for distribution to four testing laboratories. The team analyzed test results for all samples at all labs to assess repeatability.

A disc-shaped asphalt pavement mixture sample in the test setup. The disc was instrumented with a temperature sensor prior to testing.
For the DCT test, a disc-shaped asphalt sample was instrumented with a temperature sensor and prepared for pulling tension to simulate its cracking susceptibility while contracting at low temperatures.

The research team then collected field performance data on 15 selected asphalt overlay projects also in the database and ran over 100 finite element models of the mixtures to examine how their fracture energy test results may predict reflective cracking performance in the field.

What Did We Learn?

The DCT testing database included over 6,000 test results as of the end of 2018 and can be updated with new test results as they become available to optimize the use of DCT testing in performance-based specifications.

Typically, DCT testing requires holding a specimen at low temperature during testing for up to 12 hours; investigators refined the method to reduce the holding time to approximately 2.5 hours, in part by instrumenting specimens for interior temperature monitoring. Researchers also determined that reheating plant-produced loose asphalt mixtures to compact samples for DCT testing produced lower fracture energy results.

Researchers identified a fracture energy limit of 90 joules per square meter over which low-temperature fracture energy test results reproduce poorly and found that testing of 12 replicated specimens lowers variability and minimum and maximum fracture energy range values. Increasing binder content and the high- and low-temperature range of PG binders improves fracture resistance in mixtures, as does lowering recycled asphalt content.

“We need to continue to evaluate DCT for mix design. The researchers made good recommendations for overlay projects to combine thickness and fracture energy,” said Shongtao Dai, research operations engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

Overlay fracture resistance, determined by combining overlay thickness and mixture fracture energy, correlates with improved reflective cracking performance in asphalt overlays. A fracture-resistance value of 50 joules per square meter found in this study may be used to minimize reflective cracking potential in overlays.

What’s Next?

MnDOT is closer to implementing DCT test specifications for asphalt pavement. Turnaround time in DCT testing limits its use in quality assurance and control of asphalt mixtures during production, and MnDOT is researching alternative tests for this purpose. The DCT database may be valuable in calculating and evaluating other performance parameters for their ability in predicting field cracking performance.

Use of the DCT for overlay performance testing and specifications proved promising. Validation and field implementation, as well as further analysis of fracture energy, mixture composition and overlay thickness relationships to reflective cracking performance all warrant more research. 

This post pertains to Report 2019-24, “Disc Shaped Compact Tension (DCT) Specifications Development for Asphalt Pavement,” published June 2019. For more information, visit the MnDOT project page.

Testing Methods for Crack Resistance in Asphalt Materials

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is working with other state agencies in a pooled fund study to improve methods for testing crack resistance of asphalt mixtures. To expand options further, MnDOT asked researchers to evaluate alternative tests with standard lab equipment. The new tests produced repeatable results. Methods include the semicircular bend (SCB) test in a nontypical configuration, a dynamic modulus test of smaller asphalt mixture samples, a bending beam rheometer (BBR) test of mixtures, and a BBR of asphalt material for binder selection.

What Was the Need?

A number of factors lead to cracking and other damage in asphalt. Cold temperatures cause pavements to contract, triggering internal tensions that lead to low-temperature cracking. Aging asphalt binder grows brittle and under loading pressure generates bottom-up, or fatigue, cracking. A variety of causes may contribute to top-down cracking, such as mixture properties, construction practices, tire design and loading.

A road crew works at night to place a layer of asphalt pavement.

MnDOT, in partnership with the National Center for Asphalt Technology, and four other state transportation agencies are part of a pooled fund study to develop mixture performance testing focused on cracking. This group, termed the Cracking Group, installed eight different pavement cells at MnROAD in the summer of 2016 to examine pavement performance and testing approaches for low-temperature, top-down and fatigue cracking.

The group’s approach does not embrace every potential test, including some examinations other agencies and research organizations have found potentially valuable in predicting cracking behavior of asphalt pavement materials.

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT sought to investigate the viability of testing methods not included in Cracking Group studies. These tests would be conducted on asphalt mixtures sampled during construction of the test sections at MnROAD to help in material selection, quality control and forensic investigation of paving materials.

“This was a knowledge-building, data-gathering study that will help fill out our materials library database to correlate test results of asphalt materials to field performance.”
—David Van Deusen, Research Operations Engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research

What Did We Do?

Preliminary testing focused on the eight MnROAD cells, pulling cores from the existing pavement before reconstructing new sections. Researchers tested these cores to refine methods for proposed tests. The team then gathered details on the binders and mixtures used in the 2016 reconstruction to use in its planned tests.

Researchers ran three tests on the eight asphalt mixtures and one test on the five asphalt binders used in the pavement mixtures at MnROAD. The asphalt mixture tests were:

  • Bending beam rheometer (BBR) test of mixtures to obtain creep stiffness and strength of asphalt mixtures. This approach uses small beam specimens useful in forensic investigations.
  • Low-temperature semicircular bend (SCB) test to measure fracture energy in mixtures. Currently there is no national standard test for fracture energy, but based on previous pooled fund work, MnDOT implemented the disk-shaped compact tension (DCT) test. The SCB results will be used to tie in the previous work and compare to the DCT.
  • Dynamic modulus test of mixture resilience that uses smaller cylindrical specimens, a benefit in forensic studies.

To obtain asphalt binder strength, researchers used a variation of the BBR test for mixtures.

A sample disk of asphalt stands vertically in testing equipment to be compressed from one edge to the other.
The SCB test applies pressure diametrically on an asphalt pavement puck along the axis of a 6-inch pavement cylinder to measure susceptibility to cracking at low temperatures.

What Did We Learn?

The four tests proved to be viable options for materials selection testing, quality control and forensic examination of samples from existing asphalt pavements. The SCB and dynamic modulus can be run with research equipment. These tests yielded repeatable results and identified differences in the eight mixtures that are expected to impact performance. In particular, the BBR test of mixture has potential for being a practical field screening test.

The BBR test of mixtures measures strength and creep of ½-inch-thick asphalt mixture specimens compared to an indirect tensile test of strength on 2-inch asphalt pucks, and the test produces similar results. The dynamic modulus test uses the same configuration as the indirect tensile test, but instead of applying vertical compression to a 6-inch asphalt core, it applies pressure on a 1.5-inch puck diametrically, yielding similar results on an asphalt mixture’s resistance to loading.

The SCB test, an alternative to the DCT test, provides similar results in measuring the fracture energy of asphalt pavement mixtures. Either of these two newer tests is viable for MnDOT use. The binder BBR strength test represents a viable alternative to the direct tension test that, due to complex sample preparation and expensive equipment, is not frequently used.

“These test methods produce repeatable, consistent results, are simple to perform and differentiate between mixtures. They could provide critical information on the evolution of pavement performance since they can be used for forensic analyses.”
—Mihai Marasteanu, Professor, University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering

All tests found sample performance highly dependent on temperature. Fracture resistance does not correlate directly with other tested values; two mixtures that share similar creep stiffness, for example, may not have similar fracture resistance. Results indicate the eight mixtures tested may perform similarly, although one with high recycled asphalt content and another with a highly modified asphalt binder may be outliers. Based on the laboratory test results, mixtures with performance-graded binders do not differ markedly when one is mixed with recycled asphalt materials. As is the case with all pavement field studies, time is required for the mixes to begin to distinguish themselves from one another in terms of field performance.

What’s Next?

MnDOT will share test results from this study with the Cracking Group team and include them in the overall examination of the MnROAD test cells. Researchers recommend comparing results to observed distresses and core tests periodically from these pavement cells to correlate field conditions and tested mixture performance over time. MnDOT will consider some of these testing methods and findings in its continuing effort to develop a performance-based balanced mix design approach for asphalt pavement.

This post pertains to Report 2019-03, “Investigation of Cracking Resistance of Asphalt Mixtures and Binders,” published January 2019. For more information, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation project page.

Research Confirms Low-Binder Asphalt Pavement Mixtures Prone to Cracking

Disk-shaped compact tension test
The disk-shaped compact tension test determines fracture energy of pavement samples, a strong predictor of cracking performance.

Research showed that lower asphalt binder mixtures are susceptible to premature cracking. The current use of coarse-graded mix designs should be adjusted to narrow the gradation difference between larger and smaller aggregates in the mixes. While the research suggests such mixes should be used sparingly in Minnesota, it did not provide definitive data suggesting the practice should be stopped altogether. The practice may continue on a limited basis.

What Was the Need?

Introduced in 1993, Superpave has successfully helped transportation agencies in northern regions design asphalt pavements that are less susceptible to thermal cracking. When tested, Superpave-compliant designs were found to resist both rutting and thermal cracking.

Gradation-based design approaches have also allowed for the use of coarse-graded, low asphalt binder mixtures. These mix designs establish a maximum aggregate size and reduce the range of usable gradations. Such coarse-graded designs meet MnDOT specifications because the maximum aggregate size falls within the acceptable gradation range. However, the reduced fine aggregate content made possible by the use of coarse aggregates leads to a mix that, while still within specifications, offers less surface area to be coated by the asphalt binder and can encourage unwelcome permeability in the field. To win low-bid competitions, contractors have embraced these low-binder, coarse-graded designs to reduce binder and aggregate costs.

Transportation engineers noticed that these pavements seemed to “gray out” or lose their dark color more quickly than previous asphalt designs. These pavements also seemed to grow somewhat more brittle and were less able to rebound from loading. Such asphalts are thought to be prone to quicker failure than mixes with finer aggregate and more binder. Road designers typically attribute thermal cracking and potholing in low-binder asphalt to the increased permeability that leads to water incursion and freeze-thaw damage.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to determine how well low-binder asphalt pavements per-form and whether current designs make sense in terms of cost–benefit and durability. Researchers would identify any relationship between reduced bitumen use and potential for cracking, and would suggest changes to specifications for coarse-graded asphalt pavement mixtures to prevent such cracking issues.

What Did We Do?

Researchers worked with MnDOT to identify 10 pavement locations in Minnesota that used 13 coarse-graded, low-binder asphalt mix designs. Investigators extracted data on cracking, roughness and other factors for these sites from MnDOT’s pavement management system. The research team then visited the sites and inspected the pavements.

Researchers developed a coring plan, and field samples were cored for volumetric analysis to determine the binder, aggregate, air void level and other properties of each mixture. They also tested permeability and dynamic modulus, and conducted fracture energy testing to determine cracking resistance.

Investigators used performance modeling to analyze the test results of pavement proper-ties and project pavement durability. Then they compared the projected performance to actual field performance. From this assessment, they drew recommendations for modifying specifications for MnDOT low-binder, coarse-graded asphalt mixtures.

What Did We Learn?

This study suggests MnDOT should reduce its use of coarse-graded asphalt mixtures, but the findings did not provide sufficient data to justify prohibiting the use of coarse- graded, low-binder asphalt designs.

Low-binder mixtures were prone to thermal and transverse cracking. Their high permeability left them vulnerable to premature moisture and freeze-thaw damage. Field and laboratory testing and modeling demonstrated that coarser mixtures produce excessive cracking in a short period of time. Thin overlays of 3 inches or less crack more quickly than thick overlays of 4 to 6 inches. Mechanistic-empirical simulations showed that low-binder asphalt mixtures were significantly inferior to higher-binder mixtures in terms of thermal cracking.

Most of the high-cracking mixtures showed low fracture energy in testing, suggesting the value of fracture energy testing and modeling. Disk-shaped compact tension testing showed that higher permeability mixtures correlate reasonably well with lower fracture energy. Eight of the 13 mixtures were more permeable than recommended, and six significantly so. Typical volumetric properties poorly predicted cracking.

To better project pavement performance, researchers recommend that MnDOT maintain volumetric testing-based specifications, but add performance testing-based specifications and testing designs for fracture energy, fracture resistance, modulus and other parameters. For Superpave designs, investigators suggest using a narrower aggregate gradation range, reducing the gradation gap between minimum and maximum aggregates in mixes.

What’s Next?

Although the research validates MnDOT engineers’ anecdotal concerns, the pavements evaluated were mostly overlays, which are known to be susceptible to transverse cracking because of flaws in underlying pavement layers. MnDOT may weigh the results and adjust specifications, but would likely require further study of coarse-graded mixture performance before ruling out its use or identifying situations in which coarse-graded mixtures may be the best option. Additional research could consider the use of nonuniform lift designs for asphalt pavements, varying mixes for each lift in the structure rather than using a single, uniform mix for every layer in the full depth of the pavement.


This post pertains to Report 2017-27, “Impact of Low Asphalt Binder for Coarse HMA Mixes,” published June 2017. 

MnDOT, Alabama center team up for national pavement research

The nation’s two largest pavement test tracks are planning their first-ever co-experiments.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Road Research Facility (MnROAD) and the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) began discussing a formal partnership last year and have now asked states to join a pair of three-year research projects that will begin this summer.

Representatives of the test tracks are meeting next week in Minneapolis at the 19th Annual TERRA Pavement Conference. They said the partnership will develop a national hot mix asphalt cracking performance test and expand the scope of existing pavement preservation research at the NCAT facility in Auburn, Alabama, to  include northern test sections in Minnesota.

MnROAD plans to build test sections at its facility and also off-site on a low- and high-volume road, which may include concrete test sections if funding allows. These Minnesota test sections will supplement 25 test sections built by NCAT on an existing low-volume haul route in 2010 and an off-site high-volume test road planned for this summer in Alabama to assess the life-extending benefits of different pavement preservation methods. Both agencies have also been developing performance tests to predict the cracking potential of asphalt mixes, and they will now work together on that research as well.

“We will collect and analyze the data in similar ways, and I think we’ll have a greater appeal nationally, as we cover a range of climate conditions,” said MnROAD Operations Engineer Ben Worel.

Participation in the pavement preservation study is $120,000 per year for the initial research cycle, which will drop to $40,000 after three years; the cracking study will run three years at $210,000 per year.  Alabama will be the lead state for this effort.

State departments of transportation are asked for commitment letters this month if they are interested in joining either study, even if they do not have SP&R (State Planning and Research) dollars available at the time. Participating agencies will get to design the scope of the research and be kept advised of the ongoing findings, so they can benefit early from the project. Initial planning meetings will be done through a series of webinars in March and April of this year with participating agencies.

At a January 8 webinar, speakers said the research will help states determine how long pavement preservation treatments will last.

“Many DOTs have really well-designed and well-thought-out decision trees, where they can take pavement management data and end up with a rational selection of pavement alternatives. But the issue of extending pavement life is the really big unknown, because references provide a broad range of expected performance,”  NCAT Test Track Manager Buzz Powell said.

Another benefit is that states can learn how pavement treatments hold up in both hot and cold climates.

“It’s 14 degrees right now in Mississippi. It rains about every three days, freezes and then thaws,” said Mississippi Chief Engineer Mark McConnell. “So we need to know how pavement preservation is going to work in the north as well.”

For additional information, contact Ben Worel (ben.worel@state.mn.us) at MnROAD or Buzz Powell (buzz@auburn.edu) at NCAT.

mnroad_ncat
Aerial views of the pavement test tracks at MnROAD (left) and NCAT (right).