The performance of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) critically depends on the efficiency of electron transport within the TiO2-dye-electrolyte interface. To improve the efficiency of the electron transfer the conventional structure of the working electrode (WE) based on TiO2 nanoparticles (NPs) was replaced with TiO2 nanotubes (NTs). Sol-gel method was used to prepare undoped and Nb-doped TiO2 NPs and TiO2 NTs. The crystallinity and morphology of the WEs were characterized using XRD, SEM and TEM techniques. XPS and PL measurements revealed a higher concentration of oxygen-related defects at the surface of NPs-based electrodes compared to that based on NTs. Replacement of the conventional NPs-based TiO2 WE with alternative led to a 15% increase in power conversion efficiency (PCE) of the DSCs. The effect is attributed to the more efficient transfer of charge carriers in the NTs-based electrodes due to lower defect concentration. The suggestion was confirmed experimentally by electrical impedance spectroscopy measurements when we observed the higher recombination resistance at the TiO2 NTs-electrolyte interface compared to that at the TiO2 NPs-electrolyte interface. Moreover, Nb-doping of the TiO2 structures yields an additional 14% PCE increase. The application of Nb-doped TiO2 NTs as photo-electrode enables the fabrication of a DSC with an efficiency of 8.1%, which is 35% higher than that of a cell using a TiO2 NPs. Finally, NTs-based DSCs have demonstrated a 65% increase in the PCE value, when light intensity was decreased from 1000 to 10 W/m2 making such kind device be promising alternative indoor PV applications when the intensity of incident light is low.
Keywords: X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy; charge traps; dye-sensitized solar cells; nanotubes; semiconductor-liquid interface.