Virtual pipelines stand out as a convenient solution in a context with increased interest in cleaner and cost-effective energy sources. 

As demand for natural gas surges around the world for its recognized lower carbon footprint, the virtual pipeline system represents an attractive option for accessing this energy source in underserved areas by traditional pipeline infrastructure. Additionally, virtual pipelines also present a viable option for other green energy alternatives, including biogas, biomethane and hydrogen.

But what are virtual pipelines, what are their benefits and how do they work? Here’s a look at this alternative to conventional gas pipelines that is becoming key to facilitating access to green energy resources.

Virtual pipelines: what are they?

Virtual pipelines represent an innovative logistic solution for transporting natural gas (compressed or liquefied), biogas or hydrogen using a fleet of vehicles specially designed to transport these elements in efficient and safe ways.

Keep learning: Natural gas plant maintenance – best practices

As such, a virtual pipeline system coordinates trucks, trailers, or ships to provide an alternative to traditional pipelines, effectively acting as “mobile pipelines” transporting substances from source to end-users or distribution points.

The system is often deployed in areas where conventional pipelines are not available or not feasible due to economic, geographic or environmental reasons. They have also been instrumental in providing emergency or temporary supply during pipeline disruptions. As such, they have become an increasingly sought-after solution, with NGVAmerica reporting the equivalent of 99,000 truckloads of CNG and LNG being transported via virtual pipelines in 2019 in the USA.

Features of virtual pipelines

  • Mobile and flexible.
  • Modular and scalable, allowing for changes in capacities based on demand.
  • Often combined with specialized storage facilities on site, in order to guarantee on demand access.
  • Incorporate advanced technology for gas compression or gas liquefaction, as well as specialized transportation equipment.
  • Are subject to specific regulatory and safety standards to ensure security and high quality.

Advantages of a virtual pipeline system

  • Capacity to deliver gasses to locations not served by conventional pipelines, including remote or isolated areas, industrial sites or mines. For instance, the IEA cites the case study of Madeira’s only natural gas power plant, which is supplied by a virtual pipeline system consisting of both truck and ship deliveries and a regasification plant in the island.
  • Fast deployment compared to traditional pipeline infrastructure, enabling the possibility of urgent supply.
  • Can be used as temporary solutions to satisfy seasonal demand, emergency needs or while permanent systems are deployed.
reference list cryolines
  • While pipelines represent a better economical option for longer distances, virtual pipelines are a cost-effective choice in contexts such as challenging terrains and short or medium distances. Such is the case of Cryospain’s project in Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia), a cryogenic storage solution granting access to LNG in a remote spot and linked through the coordination of diverse modes of transportation.
  • Environmental benefits in several areas. On the one hand, they help minimize the land and habitat disturbances caused by the construction of conventional pipelines. As such, they rely on already existing transportation infrastructure.
    On the other hand, they enable access to energy sources that are cleaner than fossil fuels, including the transport of natural gas.
    For instance, the IEA cites how, since 2010, efforts to switch from coal to natural gas have managed to save around 500 million tons of CO2. Their reports also mention the potential to reduce up to 1.2 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions by 2030, given the right conditions. LNG is involved in promoting cleaner transportation modes, including the shift to LNG ships.
  • Virtual pipelines offer outstanding flexibility and scalability, so that they can be easily adjusted based on demand fluctuations and not depending on a fixed infrastructure.
  • They enhance supply security by diversifying access options and routes, helping build a resilient system against any potential gas market crisis.

Virtual vs physical gas pipelines


Physical gas pipelines consist of a network of pipes which connect gas production fields with end-users. Virtual pipelines transport natural gas (liquefied or compressed) using various modes of transportation such as trucks, railcars, or ships.


Conventional pipelines are designed to transport large gas volumes over long distances, handling continuous flow rates and thus meeting large demands. On the other hand, virtual pipelines are suitable for short to medium distances for remote areas that may present fluctuating demands and benefit from the added flexibility of the virtual pipeline system. The volume of gas that can be transported via trucks, railcars, or ships is limited by the specific capacities of the chosen vehicles, with the possibility to expand by adding additional transport options.


Building physical pipelines requires substantial upfront investment in infrastructure development, including land acquisition, pipe fabrication, construction, and certifications. Virtual pipelines, on the other hand, require less infrastructure investment and reduce upfront costs, but may present higher operational costs, particularly when involved in long distance transportation.

Cryospain projects


Constructing physical pipelines typically takes several years, as it involves lengthy planning, design, and construction phases. This process delays the availability of gas supply. Compared to this, virtual pipelines are set up relatively quickly and can serve as a solution for short-term energy needs or emergencies.

How does a virtual pipeline system work?

An example can be provided by the gas transport systems for LNG, which take place in the following three steps:


Once natural gas is extracted, it must be filtered and purified in order not to ham equipment and comply with standards. It is then cooled to extremely low temperatures to convert it into a liquid state (LNG). During this process, natural gas undergoes significant contraction, resulting in a substantial reduction in volume (with a reduction factor of approximately 600) and methane levels reaching 100%.

Keep reading: LNG FGSS (gas supply system): concepts and components


Transport of natural gas in its liquefied state takes place in LNG tankers or specialized cryogenic containers, allowing for long-distance distribution, with temperatures around -161°C and at atmospheric pressure of 1 to 3 bars.


Once it reaches the end point or distribution center, LNG can be kept in storage terminals, making it readily available for later use. Temperatures within are kept at -161ºC.

Before its use, regasification must take place to restore the substance’s gaseous state at ambient temperatures.

Virtual pipelines to transport natural gas

Be it as Compressed Natural Gas or as Liquefied Natural Gas, virtual pipelines are enabling supply and transport of natural gas at a time when this substance is hailed for its environmental advantages over fossil fuels.

Both CNG pipeline and virtual pipelines for LNG benefit from processes that effectively reduce the volume of natural gas, facilitating its transportation and storage. Specialized equipment, such as LNG storage solutions, is involved throughout the whole process to ensure safety and quality.

Virtual gas pipeline: access to green energy

This alternative method of transport of natural gas is playing a significant role in promoting access to green energy for areas that have been typically underserved by conventional pipelines.

As such, access not only to LNG but also to biogas, biomethane or hydrogen is now available, all of which present great potential for becoming greener alternatives to fossil fuels.

At the same time, virtual pipelines help build more resilient and flexible energy supply options, thus playing a vital role in the shift towards decarbonization. For instance, they can be integrated with intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, ultimately being part of the recipe for a low-carbon future that also presents energy security.

Cryospain: your ally to implement virtual pipelines

At Cryospain, we offer our decades-long expertise in cryogenic engineering for the development of virtual pipeline infrastructure

From our flat bottom cryogenic tanks to the development of tailored solutions, we provide state-of-the-art cryogenic solutions that comply with the most sophisticated quality standards and safety certificates. This includes our work in solving challenging transportation and logistic scenarios.

Get in touch with us to learn more about our work and how we can help you.

Contact us

Privacy Policy

Thank you! We'll get back to you as soon as possible.