Second-hand Vehicle Exports: Implications for Life Cycle Environmental Performance, Environmental Justice, and Critical Materials for U.S. Electric Vehicles

The U.S. is rapidly increasing electric vehicle (EV) sales to meet decarbonization targets for the transport sector. Assessment of the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of EVs have uniformly assumed that vehicles purchased in the U.S. stay in the U.S. for their entire life cycle, yet the U.S. exports nearly a million used cars annually, nearly all destined for lower- and middle-income countries. These exports may or may not confer environmental benefits on receiving countries, especially when the electricity grids used to charge them and the final disposition of EV batteries are considered. Concurrently, exports of second-hand vehicles from the U.S. could reduce the potential circularity of domestic EV battery production via lost secondary material recovery. This research proposes to couple a system dynamics and material flow analysis, with a multi-region life cycle assessment model to assess the impacts of second-hand EV exports between the U.S. and Mexico. Results will quantify the life cycle environmental performance of EVs and domestic material circularity potential, qualitatively explore the risk of imposing environmental injustices via export of used EVs and their batteries, and test possible policy solutions to maximize benefits for both the U.S. and Mexico.

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