With gleaming stainless-steel equipment, Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Hussain Bahia’s third-floor Engineering Hall laboratory feels much like a high-tech kitchen. There, he and his students meticulously develop and test “recipes” for asphalt mixes that can help contractors make the most of their material.
Among their ingredients are polymer additives developed by Honeywell Specialty Additives of Morristown, New Jersey, and premiered in Wisconsin. Modified asphalts—those mixed with various additives—can increase pavement resistance to damage such as wheel-path rutting or cracking.
Through a collaboration with Honeywell, Bahia and his students helped the company select its polymers, which provide a much-needed alternative for such additives. In 2008, a competing polymer experienced a nationwide shortage. As a result, many departments of transportation had to revise bids because the polymer wasn’t available. “I think it’s a good thing to have Honeywell develop polymers that are comparable to polymers on the market to ensure there’s adequate supply and competitive pricing,” says Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association Executive Director Scot Schwandt, who introduces association members to new asphalt products and processes.
Mixed according to specifications, the Honeywell polymers—sold as Honeywell Titan—can help contractors save time and money. Other polymer additives are mixed with asphalt off-site and transported in large tankers to a contractor’s facility. However, contractors can blend the Honeywell Titan polymers in-house, enabling them to mix only the amount of asphalt they need for any size project. The additives also may offer contractors the freedom to work in winter. “If these polymers prove good for low-temperature compaction, then we can extend the construction season,” says Bahia.
He and his students are working with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Honeywell on ways to certify the polymer incorporation process. They also are testing the modified asphalts in the lab and on the road, so that all stakeholders can feel confident about them. “We expect it to be a much better opportunity for the contractors, as well as the public, because eventually we can fix more roads than what we are doing right now,” says Bahia.