In defence of bar l

In a recent article in GUE’s InDepth blog, Richard Walker argues that the correct unit to discuss the amount of (free) gas in a cylinder is l (litre) and not bar l (bar times litre) because that is the correct unit for a volume.

I would like to argue that although the latter is correct the former isn’t: The volume of the gas is not its amount. The amount is measured by counting the number of molecules or (if you don’t like big numbers) the number of moles of gas. Let’s look at the ideal gas law, the mother of all gas calculations (and of course including Boyle-Mariotte):


It’s the n on the right hand side (or nR depending on whether you count molecules or moles). As during diving, the temperature stays pretty much constant (or at least we don’t take changes in to account in our calculations) you could include that in the constant as well. Then the RHS (and thus the LHS) describes the diver’s version of amount of gas.

And that is not changed even when feeding it though a compressor (let’s still ignore the temperature change), when emptying the cylinder at the surface or when breathing it at 30m of depth at ambient pressure. This is the amount.

And you should measure it in the unit of this equation which is volume times pressure, which in SI derived unites is conveniently expressed in bar l.

Of course you can compute which volume this amount of gas fills at some pressure (be it 232 bar or 1 bar or 4 bar in the above examples), simply divide by that pressure. But when gas planning, you should plan the amount of gas you need (you will need it at different pressures) and that is measured (invariantly) in bar l.

I am sorry Rich, but I believe you are wrong here.

3 thoughts on “In defence of bar l”

  1. Very nuanced, but yes when he is saying “2400 litres” he means “2400 litres at 1 atmosphere.” Or something between 0.9 and 1.1 bar depending on atmospheric conditions. But kudos to GUE for working to abandon the stone age systems of Trumpistan–even if a bit arrogantly, as usual

  2. The article mentions RHS and LHS but doesn’t say what they are. What did I miss? Richard Walker’s article seems quite reasonable to me. I would say that the correct way (if a bit pedantic) would be to say: 2,400 l @1ATA, just like I like to express SAC/RMV as 10 l/min @1ATA, for accuracy.

    On the other hand, this “bar l” unit makes zero sense to me. And while I’m at it, it’s Boyle–Mariotte, not Boyle–Marotte.

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