The use of sunlight to drive organic reactions constitutes a green and sustainable strategy for organic synthesis. Herein, we discovered that the earth-abundant aluminum oxide (Al2O3) though paradigmatically known to be an insulator could induce an immense increase in the selective photo-oxidation of different benzyl alcohols in the presence of a large variety of dyes and O2. This unique phenomenon is based on the surface complexation of benzyl alcohol (BnOH) with the Brønsted base sites on Al2O3, which reduces its oxidation potential and causes an upshift in its HOMO for electron abstraction by the dye. The surface complexation of O2 with Al2O3 also activates the adsorbed O2 for receiving electrons from the photoexcited dyes. This discovery brings forth a new understanding on utilizing surface complexation mechanisms between the reactants and earth abundant materials to effectively achieve a wider range of photoredox reactions.
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