It is hard to imagine life without the 9V battery. It has powered so many household and industrial devices for over six decades that it can easily be taken for granted. Yet Ultralife Corporation are still manufacturing these power houses after more than a quarter of a century; phenomenal considering the rate of scientific and technological change.
So, how have 9V batteries survived the test of time? And, how much have 9V batteries altered since their inception?
The 'Goldilocks' of Batteries
9 could be considered the ‘goldilocks’ voltage. It is not too high and not too low to power many common devices such as test and instrumentation equipment. It is not too big to fit inside today’s compact devices but not too small to make maintaining it a challenge. With a wide operating voltage, it is also suitable for use in both indoor and outdoor environments.
These factors have resulted in a non-rechargeable battery that is so commonplace many OEMs turn to it knowing their customers will easily be able to source a replacement once it reaches the end of its cycle life.
Yet the 9V battery used in products today may not be the traditional alkaline. As Lithium emerged as a leading battery chemistry, 9V batteries evolved to take advantage of this. Many (including Ultralife Corporation’s) still have the same footprint as an alkaline, to preserve the ease of replicability.
Lithium takes the 9V battery to the next level, lasting 5x longer than a traditional alkaline, which is ideal for use in devices that have long periods of dormancy like smoke alarms. Looking to the future, it is likely that the 9-volt will be increasingly used in next-gen applications, such as remote patient monitoring, where its small size and ability to shutdown safely should it become too hot will prove invaluable.
So, those are the reasons why the 9V battery is widely used by OEMs today and should continue to be in the future, but how much has the technology changed over the years?
9V batteries through the years
1956 – Alloy transistors were introduced, meaning radios that had previously been powered by 22.5V were able to operate from lower voltages. Although originally marketed for vacuum tube hearing aids, the 9V battery found its first home.
1991 – fast forward to the 90s and our story with the 9V begins; as Ultralife Batteries Inc was formed from the Ultra Technologies Battery Division of Kodak. During our first year of operation, a major focus was put onto reviving the Kodak manufacturing facility. Extensive tests on Kodak's 9-volt battery indicated the need for design improvements, which resulted in the first Ultralife 9-volt.
Based on lithium manganese dioxide chemistry, the battery boasted a high energy density and voltage that remained stable throughout discharge.
1996 – Ultralife’s production facility in Newark quickly became one of the most automated and efficient lithium battery production facilities of its kind in the world for 9-volt lithium batteries. Products were already achieving a 10-year service/shelf life and proving well-suited for smoke alarms, medical instruments and security devices. So popular were these batteries that, during this fiscal year alone, Ultralife manufactured between 100,000 to 400,000 batteries every month. Additionally, the company introduced its 9-volt battery to the broader consumer market by establishing relationships with national and regional retail chains.
2003 – in May of this year, to fill a multi-million-dollar order from a major consumer-products company, Ultralife began production of a private-label version of its 9-volt lithium battery. Employees worked 13 out of every 14 days to keep up with demand.
2012 – up until now 9V batteries had used cylindrical cells in a square formation but Ultralife’s engineers realized that this wasted vital space, so the thin cell battery was developed as a pouch with square cells. The resulting product weighs 37 grams, 12% lighter than the original Ultralife Lithium 9V battery, making it ideal for next-gen devices. Not only is the design improved but it resulted in performance enhancements, achieving a capacity of 1200mAh compared to the 800mAh boasted by the leading brand-named lithium competitors.
Since the 50s, 9V batteries have been relied upon to power the latest technological devices and that is set to continue. This battery legend can now be found in the latest wearable and IoT devices, remote monitoring systems, security sensors and surgical lighting. It is little wonder then that over 100 million of the longest lasting lithium 9-volt batteries from Ultralife Corporation have been sold worldwide, and its exploitation continues to go from strength to strength.