Asphalt: From Origin to Road
Crude Oil to Liquid Asphalt
Liquid asphalt is a byproduct of the crude oil refining process, which is a process of separating hydrocarbons into refined products such as gasoline, diesel and other light-to-medium distillates. When crude oil is separated in the distillation tower, the heaviest product with the highest boiling point, known as refined bitumen, settles at the bottom. This product requires little additional processing to become liquid asphalt.
To avoid unnecessary downtime due to bottlenecking, and permit the continued production of more profitable refined products, refiners need to clear the liquid asphalt product from their facilities.
Approximately 85% of liquid asphalt in the U.S. is used for road paving and as a binder in asphalt cement concrete, approximately 10% is used for roofing products, and other specialty applications account for the remainder.
The U.S. liquid asphalt industry, an approximately 24 million ton annual market, is comprised of independent refiners, asphalt refiners, storage and terminal operators, distributors, asphalt mixing plants and construction companies. Participants range from major oil companies to small, family-owned businesses. Liquid asphalt terminal operations include the storage of liquid asphalt and distribution to end users, which primarily consist of paving or construction companies.
Asphalt is loaded into refiner-owned/company-leased heated rail cars at the refinery and transported to Associated Asphalt’s terminals. Liquid asphalt is heated in the car by steam so that it flows easily from the car into Company-owned storage tanks. The average in-transit time for rail cars from the refinery to one of our terminals is seven to 10 days.
Associated Asphalt’s Role
The majority of our asphalt sales are picked up on-site by customer-owned trucks for transport to the job site, where the asphalt is mixed with heating aggregate for paving. The Roanoke, Tampa, Martinsburg, Bristol and Columbia asphalt terminals also maintain a small fleet of trucks for delivery use during peak demand periods.
We receive liquid asphalt via barge delivery at our Tampa terminal, and at terminals located in Savannah, GA and Hopewell, VA. Our Tampa terminal can accommodate barges up to approximately 500 feet in length with a minimum draft of 34 feet.
Asphalt must be heated to approximately 280° Fahrenheit to efficiently unload a rail car at our terminals and trucked at approximately 310° Fahrenheit when shipping asphalt to our customers. Because of these temperature constraints, pipelines are impractical in transporting asphalt over great distances.