Using X-Ray gun to test asphalt quality

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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is using some cutting edge technology to build better roads.

Their research could mean smoother and safer rides for Texas drivers and passengers.

"TxDOT noticed we were having some problems. Some early failures of the asphalt where it was coming apart. It wasn't sticking together anymore so TXDOT hired TTI to look into that," said Darlene Goehl, Texas A&M Transportation Institute Research Specialist.

TTI's answer was an X-Ray gun that measures the chemical composition of the asphalt.

"This is a screen and on the front of the machine is a little camera. So we can line up the X-Ray device with the asphalt. And so you just touch it to the top of the asphalt," said Goehl as she demonstrated the gun.

They are looking for high metal content in the samples. Oil can be recycled into the asphalt used in roadways but sometimes the levels can be too high.

"If there's too much metal that's kind of a red flag?," asked News 3's Clay Falls.

"Yes that's the red flag.... One of the things they found is that the asphalt wasn't sticky. It wasn't sticky because these recycled engine oils are being added in high quantities...Asphalt is oil," said Goehl.

Our traditional test did not pick up the higher percentages of the recycle materials," she said.
Some states have banned the extra substances in their asphalt, but not Texas.

"We want to be responsible and use recycled materials but we want to do it in a responsible and reasonable way," said Goehl.

Maintaining roads in a growing state continues to be a challenge.

After 30 seconds the X-Ray scan is complete. Researchers will continue to test out in the field but you won't see these guns massed produced just yet. They cost more than $50,000.

"We can spot check refineries. We can spot check asphalt storage tanks, maybe at the contractor's facility," said Goehl. "So this is a really good device that we can take with us and it gives us results very fast," she said.

They can also test samples on this machine at their lab.

"Asphalt is the main ingredient in most of our roadway materials and so we'll need to find better, more accurate ways to test to ensure that we get good quality materials to make sure we're good stewards of the taxpayers dollar," she said.

TTI has been working on this since 2016.

While they did not create the gun, they customized it for their research and quality control work.