Miners Ultra Argentina SRL and China's Zangge Mining will invest $290 million in northwest Argentina to explore and develop potentially lucrative lithium deposits, the government said late on Wednesday.

The plan to produce lithium carbonate, a major component in rechargeable batteries, will start with a $40 million investment in the Laguna Verde Project in the country's Catamarca province, followed by at least another $250 million from Zangge to build a production plant by late 2023, the productive development ministry said in a statement.

"The ministry is willing to follow this project every step of the way and do everything possible to make it happen according to schedule so it can be a success," said Minister Daniel Scioli.

Argentina, the world's fourth-largest lithium producer with 8% of the global market, wants to close the gap with neighboring second-place Chile, which produces more than a fifth of world supplies.

Demand for the ultra-light white metal has soared on expectations that leading global automakers like Ford Motor Co. and Tesla will dramatically increase their sales of electric vehicles over the next decade.

Argentina's lithium deposits are mostly trapped in sprawling salt flats, while top producer Australia largely mines the mineral from hard rock. (Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Richard Pullin)