UPDATE 1-Argentina says Chinese miner to invest $1.7 bln in lithium projects

(Adds details on lithium projects, expected output growth)

BUENOS AIRES, May 31 (Reuters) – Chinese miner Tibet Summit Resources will invest $1.7 billion to develop two lithium projects in Argentina, the economy ministry said on Wednesday, as the South American country eyes burgeoning demand for the metal used in rechargeable batteries.

The projects in the Arizaro and Diablillos salt flats in Salta province are expected to produce 50,000-100,000 tonnes of lithium, the ministry noted in a statement, without elaborating or saying when they would come online.

Tibet Summit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Argentina is the world’s fourth largest producer of lithium, an ultra-light metal in high demand from makers of electric vehicles.

“We want a mining industry that takes advantage of our resources and generates added value and employment,” said Economy Minister Sergio Massa in the statement.

Massa is visiting China, where he met with executives from Tibet Summit.

Last year, Argentina exported around 40,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, a processed product used in lithium-ion batteries. The country’s growing lithium sector expects to triple shipments in the next few years.

The growth is expected largely due to two lithium projects ramping up production in Jujuy province in Argentina’s arid northwest. One is operated by U.S.-based Livent Corp in Catamarca province and the other by Australia’s Allkem.

The two companies expect to double their current output to about 42,500 tonnes of lithium carbonate each in the next few years, government data show.

Another major lithium project, Cauchari-Olaroz, is expected to come online in June, operated by local firm Exar, which is run by Canada’s Lithium Americas Corp, China’s Ganfeng Lithium and state producer JEMSE.

Exar expects to ramp up lithium carbonate production to around 40,000 tonnes annually beginning next year. (Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Richard Chang)