Exploring the mineral–water interface: reduction and reaction kinetics of single hematite (α-Fe2O3) nanoparticles
In spite of their natural and technological importance, the intrinsic electrochemical properties of hematite (α-Fe2O3) nanoparticles are not well understood. In particular, particle agglomeration, the presence of surface impurities, and/or inadequate proton concentrations are major obstacles to uncover the fundamental redox activities of minerals in solution. These are particularly problematic when samples are characterized in common electrochemical analyses such as cyclic voltammetry in which nanoparticles are immobilized on a stationary electrode. In this work, the intrinsic reaction kinetics and thermodynamics of individual hematite nanoparticles are investigated by particle impact chronoamperometry. The particle radius derived from the integrated area of spikes recorded in a chronoamperogram is in excellent agreement with electron microscopy results, indicating that the method provides a quantitative analysis of the reduction of the nanoparticles to the ferrous ion. A key finding is that the suspended individual nanoparticles undergo electrochemical reduction at potentials much more positive than those immobilized on a stationary electrode. The critical importance of the solid/water interface on nanoparticle activity is further illustrated by a kinetic model. It is found that the first electron transfer process is the rate determining step of the reductive dissolution of hematite nanoparticles, while the overall process is strongly affected by the interfacial proton concentration. This article highlights the effects of the interfacial proton and ferrous ion concentrations on the reductive dissolution of hematite nanoparticles and provides a highly effective method that can be readily applied to study a wide range of other mineral nanoparticles.