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When asphalt is milled into microscopic particles and dispersed in water with a chemical emulsifier, it becomes an asphalt emulsion. The tiny droplets of asphalt remain uniformly suspended until the emulsion is used for its intended purpose. In the emulsion state, the emulsifier molecules orient themselves in and around droplets of asphalt. The chemistry of the emulsifier/asphalt/water system determines the dispersion and the stability of the suspension. When emulsions are used in the field, the water evaporates into the atmosphere, and the chemical emulsifier is retained with the asphalt

Emulsions were first developed in the early 1900s. It was in the 1920s when emulsions
came into general use in pavement applications. Their early use was in spray applications
and as dust palliatives. The growth in the use of asphalt emulsions was relatively
slow, limited by the type of emulsions available and a lack of knowledge as to how they
should be used. Continuing development of new types and grades, coupled with improved
construction equipment and practices, now gives a broad range of choices. Virtually
any roadway requirement can be met with emulsions. Judicious selection and use can yield significant economic and environmental benefits. Emulsions are less hazardous to use and can be applied in a wider range of conditions.