The Superpave system, developed in the late 1980s, is an innovative pavement design system that has revolutionised the road construction industry. Superpave is an acronym for Superior Performing Asphalt Pavements. It refers to an asphalt mix design system using the latest technology and research to produce long-lasting and durable pavements. This essay will explore the Superpave system in detail, including its material components, method of production, embodied energy, and examples of structures where it has been used or could be used.

The Strategic Highway Research Program was established in 1987 and was designed to improve the performance and durability of our highways. In 1991, Congress authorised Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to implement Superpave research results fully. This process began in 1993 when SHRP delivered its final research findings to states, FHWA, and the industry. States, FHWA, and industry used techniques such as state pooled-fund equipment buys, expert task groups, mobile laboratories, user-producer groups, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Lead States Program, and Superpave Centers to implement the research results.

Material Components

The Superpave system comprises three primary components: asphalt binder, aggregate, and air voids. Asphalt binder is a petroleum-based material that is the glue that binds the aggregate together. The asphalt binder is usually a highly viscous, black, sticky substance mixed with the aggregate to create asphalt concrete. The aggregate is a combination of different-sized particles of stone, sand, and other materials used to provide the pavement with strength and durability. The air voids are the empty spaces between the aggregate particles that allow water to drain and prevent the pavement from cracking due to expansion and contraction.

Coexistence of Architecture within our Lives - Sheet1
Improving asphalt performance and durability with superpave_©

Method of Production

The production of Superpave involves a highly technical and precise process designed to produce the best possible pavement. The first step is determining the properties of the asphalt binder and the aggregate used. This is done through laboratory testing, including measuring the viscosity, penetration, and ductility of the asphalt binder and the aggregate’s particle size distribution, shape, and texture. The next step is to design the asphalt mix, which involves determining the proper proportions of the asphalt binder, aggregate, and air voids. 

Coexistence of Architecture within our Lives - Sheet2
Superpave gyratory compactor_©

This is done through a complex mathematical algorithm that considers the traffic load, environmental conditions, and other factors that affect the performance of the pavement. Once the mix design is complete, the asphalt is produced in a hot mix plant, where the asphalt binder is heated and mixed with the aggregate to create asphalt concrete. The asphalt concrete is then transported to the construction site, where it is placed, compacted, and finished to create the final pavement surface.

Marshall Mix Design

The Marshall Method determines the stability and flow properties of asphalt mixes. The stability value measures the resistance of the mix to deformation, and the flow value measures the deformation of the mix under load. The Marshall method is simple, easy to use, and can be customised to fit specific needs. It is best suited for small to medium-sized asphalt production facilities. One of the main limitations of the Marshall Method is that it could be more accurate in predicting the long-term performance of a pavement. Factors like traffic load and environmental conditions can affect how well the pavement performs over time.

Coexistence of Architecture within our Lives - Sheet3
Marshall mix design apparatus_©

Superpave vs Marshall

The two primary materials used in paving methods are asphalt binder and aggregate. The Superpave method also includes air voids, which makes the asphalt mix more complex and technical. In terms of production, Superpave uses a more complex and technical process of determining the optimal mix design based on laboratory testing and computer modelling. Long-term performance is typically superior to the Superpave method, considering a wider range of factors that can affect pavement performance. However, the Marshall method is more accessible and customisable, making it ideal for more minor to medium-sized projects.

Embodied Energy

Embodied energy is required to produce, transport, and install the material. The embodied energy of Superpave varies depending on the specific materials used and the production process. However, asphalt production generally requires significant energy, primarily due to the high temperatures necessary to produce the asphalt binder and mix the aggregate. According to the National Asphalt Pavement Association, the embodied energy of asphalt pavements ranges from 3.6 to 9.2 million BTUs per ton, depending on the type of asphalt and the production process used.

Examples of Structures

Superpave are commonly used in constructing roads, highways, and airport runways. However, it can also be used in other structures, such as parking lots, driveways, and bike paths. One notable example of using Superpave is the reconstruction of the JFK Airport runway in New York City. The runway was reconstructed using the Superpave system in the early 2000s, and it has since become a model for other airport runways worldwide.

Superpave can also be used in the construction of buildings. For example, it can be used as a roofing material or as a surface for outdoor patios and walkways. One example of a building that has used Superpave is the NASA Ames Research Center in California. The centre’s outdoor patios and walkways are made of Superpave, providing a durable and long-lasting surface for employees and visitors.

NASA Ames Research Center in California_©


The Superpave system is a highly innovative and sophisticated pavement design system that has transformed how we construct roads and highways. Its use of advanced technology and research has resulted in pavements that are more durable, longer-lasting, and better suited to withstand the environmental and traffic conditions they are exposed to. The Superpave system comprises three primary material components: asphalt binder, aggregate, and air voids, mixed in a precise and technical process to produce the final pavement surface. However, the embodied energy of Superpave is relatively high due to the energy-intensive production process.


  1. Anon, (2012). WHAT IS SUPERPAVE? – HMA Contracting. [online] Available at: 
  2. ‌ (n.d.). What is Superpave? Understanding Performance-Based Asphalt. [online] Available at: 
  3. ‌ (2020). What Is Superpave? [online] Available at: 
  4. Swami, B.L., Mehta, Y.A. and Bose, S. (2004). A Comparison of the Marshall and Superpave Design Procedure for Materials Sourced in India. International Journal of Pavement Engineering, 5(3), pp.163–173
  5. pradip dangar (2016). Superpavemixdesign. [online] Available at: 

Khushi is an interior designer who believes the key to understanding is communication, and what could be a better medium than words? She finds joy in little things as they matter a lot. She enjoys rom-com literature and poetry, always keen on learning something new.