U.S. President Joe Biden’s green pitch has long had two prongs: saving the planet and outpacing China. The two are now combined in one elemental form: graphite.

The Department of Defense announced a $37.5 million grant recently for Graphite One, a startup developing North America’s largest deposit of the material. Back in March 2022, with Russia’s then-recent invasion of Ukraine amping up the geopolitical mood music, Biden issued a presidential determination that domestic mining of minerals for making large-capacity batteries is "essential to the national defense.” Under Title III of the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, the federal government can advance loans, grants or contracts to spur industries deemed critical to national security, with the definition of the latter having expanded a lot since the 1950s.

Graphite — one of five minerals named in Biden’s announcement — is the single biggest ingredient by weight in the batteries that go into electric vehicles and the power grid, far ahead of lithium. (Graphite also happens to be used in a variety of defense applications, including jet engine components, rocket nozzles and, in a grim coincidence, a type of bomb that knocks out power grids).