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Early Retirement of Old Vehicles Won’t Save the Planet: A Study

15 May 2024 by Faye Holst Early Retirement of Old Vehicles Won't Save the Planet: A Study Early Retirement of Old Vehicles Won't Save the Planet: A Study

Lifespan caps for Light-Duty vehicle (LDV) fleets have limited effectiveness for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and could drive up costs and material use finds a new study published in Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability. The research shows that although LDVs contribute 17% to the annual greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, imposing a 15-year lifespan cap on passenger vehicles under a business-as-usual scenario will not lead to any meaningful reductions in GHG emissions. 

To combat delayed uptake of Electric Vehicles (EVs), some have argued for limits on the vehicle’s serviceable years, called a lifespan cap. However, this study finds that life span caps could help drive the adoption of EVs, but at a high cost that often exceeds current estimates for the social cost of carbon. Despite greenhouse gas reductions and other benefits, accelerating EV adoption could amplify some of their negative effects including increased usage of critical materials and increased ecotoxicity related to battery production. 

According to the study, lifespan caps are only effective when implemented alongside aggressive EV sales targets and complementary strategies, such as electricity grid emissions intensity reductions, vehicle fuel consumption improvements, and vehicle production emissions reductions to boost the GHG emissions benefits, while reducing abatement costs.

The team, led by researchers at the University of Toronto, used the Fleet Life Cycle Assessment and Material Flow Estimation (FLAME) model, coupled with comprehensive cost calculations and sensitivity analyses for electric vehicle survival curves and battery degradation, to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of vehicle lifespan caps in reducing the GHG emissions of LDV fleets in the US. 

“Lifespan caps can be a powerful tool to accelerate the benefits of new vehicle technologies, particularly when it comes to reducing GHG emissions, however they can also accelerate the costs. Our results show that while they may be suitable in some situations, lifespan caps are best positioned as part of a larger integrated strategy for tackling transportation GHG emissions.”

Heather MacLean, Professor at the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto

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