Currently, brakes made from composite materials tend to be expensive, and as such mainly just find their way onto high-performance cars and motorcycles. That could be about to change, however. Researchers from Michigan-based materials company REL and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) are developing aluminum composite brake rotors for everyday cars. Not only should they be much easier to produce than existing composite rotors, but they should also be 60 percent lighter than their iron counterparts, and last three times as long.

The specific material that the rotors will be made from is a ceramic fiber reinforced, metal matrix composite. Its composition can be tweaked to address the specific tolerances required on different areas of the rotor.

"The hybrid material allows us to provide reinforcement where additional strength is needed, increase high-temperature performance, and minimize stress at the interfaces between the zones," said NYU-Poly's Associate Professor Nikhil Gupta. "Together, this should boost rotor life significantly, reducing warranty and replacement costs, and the weight savings will improve the vehicle's fuel efficiency."

According to the researchers, iron rotors don't have such versatility, and as a result are more vulnerable to mechanical strain and high temperatures.

It is estimated that the composite rotors could reduce the total weight of a mid-size sedan by approximately 30 pounds (13.6 kg). Although a finished prototype isn't expected for about a year, REL is already offering a version for motorcycles.