Tarmac vs Asphalt

Vehicles need surfaces to drive on. Planes need something to land and take off on. The world depends on paved surfaces. While there are many types of paving materials used around the world, asphalt is undoubtedly one of the most popular. There are many different asphalt formulas and types, and many different nicknames for different types of asphalt.

Blacktop, asphalt, tarmac, bitumen – are all these names for different types of asphalt or are they the same? One of the most common confusions is the terms asphalt and tarmac. Are tarmac and asphalt the same thing or are there major differences? What’s tarmac have to do with airports? Let’s learn the similarities and differences between tarmac and asphalt and what each is best for.

Tarmac Asphalt

What is Asphalt?

Asphalt is a sticky, black, thick, petroleum-based liquid. In terms of asphalt paving, asphalt is a mixture of asphalt, coarse aggregate likes rocks and stones, fillers and binders, and fine aggregate like sand. Mix all those ingredients with fresh asphalt and you’ll be ready to pave anything. There are many different formulas and mixes of asphalt paving.

What is Tarmac?

You most often hear tarmac associated with runways and airports, but tarmac has been around just a tad longer than flight. Tarmacadam, nowadays shortened to tarmac, is a road surface invented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902.

Tarmac is a mixture of macadam (crushed stone) tar, and sand. The story goes that Hooley visited a tar factory where he saw a barrel of tar had overturned. To keep from sticking it to it, factory workers laid chipped stones over the tar to create a walkable surface. Hooley realized adding tar to the old macadam roads of the past would make them more cohesive. Tar + macadam = tarmacadam paving.

Where do Airports Come in?

Tarmac at the airport is a misnomer in more ways than one. To start, the entire airport is constructed of varied materials like different blends of asphalt, concrete, and more. Surprisingly the type of paved surface you’re least likely to find at a modern airport is tarmacadam. Tarmac only refers to the area where airplanes are parked and is named for a British paving company.

Differences Between Asphalt and Tarmac

  • Asphalt is a mixture of modern chemistry with asphalt, several types of fillers and binders, properly sized aggregate, and more. Tarmac is simply stone, sand, and tar.
  • Asphalt is normally produced directly from other petroleum products while tar can be produced from organic matter like wood or peat.
  • Asphalt will last much longer than traditional tarmac.
  • Asphalt is still used today in a variety of applications while tarmac is only used for specialized projects.
  • Asphalt is more expensive than tarmac installation in most markets.
  • Asphalt can endure different chemicals and stains which can quickly eat away at the tar of tarmac.

Similarities Between Asphalt and Tarmac

  • Both paving products have similar makeups. Both involve a petroleum product, aggregate like stone, and fillers like sand.
  • Both have been used for dozens of years in a variety of paving applications.
  • Both can stand up to heavy vehicles and large loads.

Figuring Out Asphalt vs Tarmac

Asphalt and tarmac have several similarities, but asphalt is still being used daily while tarmac has gone the way of archaic paving surfaces. You’re very unlikely to see actual tarmac at your local airport, but a mixture of modern asphalt and concrete. If you need a mix of a sticky black substance and aggregate your best isn’t tarmac, but asphalt. Still unsure? Give us a call and we’ll help you decide what paving material is best for your project.