Publication Detail

Electric Vehicle Lithium-ion Batteries in Lower- and Middle-income Countries: Life Cycle Impacts and Issues


Research Report

Suggested Citation:
Kendall, Alissa, Kristi Dayemo, Nadiyah Helal, Galym Iskakov, Francisco Pares, Margaret Slattery, Lewis Fulton (2023) Electric Vehicle Lithium-ion Batteries in Lower- and Middle-income Countries: Life Cycle Impacts and Issues. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-23-09

The largest economies in the world are rapidly transitioning new vehicle sales away from gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine vehicles to battery-powered electric vehicles. This transition is material intensive, requiring the rapid development of new supply chains to build the lithium ion batteries that power electric vehicles.  These batteries are built on extractive industries located all over the world, including many in lower and middle income countries that are themselves not electrifying, and thus not enjoying the benefits of reduced air pollution and greenhouse gases.  In fact, many lower income countries rely heavily on second-hand vehicle imports from wealthier countries, including those that are rapidly electrifying their fleets. Projections of electric vehicle sales in these markets suggest that second-hand electric vehicle export flows could exceed 2 million by 2035, up from just 30,000-75,000 in 2022.

The life cycle of an electric vehicles differs not just in the materials required for production, but also throughout its life cycle, including during vehicle use and end-of-life. These differences could mean that second-hand electric vehicles rapidly become a burden in markets without the capacity and infrastructure to repair and recycle electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.  This report explores the future stocks, flows, and life cycles of electric vehicles to understand the implications for lower and middle income countries and provides a set of strategies for how some of the problems presented by the transition to electric vehicles might be mitigated.

Strategies rely on improved governance or focus to:
  • provide improved information about electric vehicle battery condition, technical information for repair and repurposing of batteries, and data on the movement of second-hand vehicles.
    • The lack of information could be partly addressed by the European Union’s proposed digital battery passport requirements, which would provide a significant advance in information regarding the battery value chain and some access to dynamic real-time information like state-of-health for in-use batteries.
    • Ensuring the right-to-repair and other measures that can extend the life of electric vehicles and their batteries, ensuring that we see fewer stranded vehicle and battery assets around the world, and particularly in lower and middle income countries.
    • Create a harmonized reporting system for collecting data at the point of export and import for second-hand vehicles and/or their batteries.
  • support the development of supply-side measures (i.e., second-hand electric vehicle export controls), and demand side measures (i.e., second-hand import controls) to prevent second-hand electric vehicle or second-hand battery exports from becoming a least-cost disposal option for exporting markets, burdening rather than benefiting the importing markets.
    • Minimum performance and condition criteria for importing and exporting markets, such as battery state-of-health or electric vehicle range.
    • Labeling and other criteria to assist in recycling and improved safety during repair or repurposing of electric vehicle batteries.

Key words: electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, life cycle analysis, policy, global, low income groups, middle income groups, developing countries