The actual production of ATP in cellular respiration takes place through the process of chemiosmosis (see Chapter 4). Chemiosmosis involves the pumping of protons through special channels in the membranes of mitochondria from the inner to the outer compartment. The pumping establishes a proton (H+) gradient. After the gradient is established, protons diffuse down the gradient through a transport protein called ATP synthase. The flow of hydrogens catalyze the pairing of a phosphate with ADP, forming ATP.

The energy production of cellular respiration is substantial. Most biochemists agree that 36 molecules of ATP can be produced for each glucose molecule during cellular respiration as a result of the Krebs cycle reactions, the electron transport system, and chemiosmosis. Also, two ATP molecules are produced through glycolysis, so the net yield is 38 molecules of ATP. These ATP molecules may then be used in the cell for its needs. However, the ATP molecules cannot be stored for long periods of time, so cellular respiration must constantly continue in order to regenerate the ATP molecules as they are used. Each ATP molecule is capable of releasing 7.3 kilocalories of energy per mole.