Heterogeneous versus homogeneous electron transfer reactions at liquid–liquid interfaces: The wrong question?
Functionalization of a soft or liquid-liquid interface by a one gold nanoparticle thick “nanofilm” provides a conductive pathway to facilitate interfacial electron transfer from a lipophilic electron donor to a hydrophilic electron acceptor in a process known as interfacial redox catalysis. The gold nanoparticles in the nanofilm are charged by Fermi level equilibration with the lipophilic electron donor and act as an interfacial reservoir of electrons. Additional thermodynamic driving force can be provided by electrochemically polarising the interface. Using these principles, the biphasic reduction of oxygen by a lipophilic electron donor, decamethylferrocene, dissolved in α,α,α-trifluorotoluene was catalysed at a gold nanoparticle nanofilm modified water-oil interface. A recently developed microinjection technique was utilised to modify the interface reproducibly with the mirror-like gold nanoparticle nanofilm, while the oxidised electron donor species and the reduction product, hydrogen peroxide, were detected by ion transfer voltammetry and UV/vis spectroscopy, respectively. Metallization of the soft interface allowed the biphasic oxygen reduction reaction to proceed via an alternative mechanism with enhanced kinetics and at a significantly lower overpotential in comparison to a bare soft interface. Weaker lipophilic reductants, such as ferrocene, were capable of charging the interfacial gold nanoparticle nanofilm but did not have sufficient thermodynamic driving force to significantly elicit biphasic oxygen reduction.