This paper reports a new D–A–π-A organic dye WS-9, which is derived from the known dye WS-2 by incorporating an n-hexylthiophene unit into the π-conjugation. Due to the presence of a strong electron-withdrawing benzothiadiazole unit in the π-bridge, the specific D–A–π-A organic dyes show more complicated electronic transition absorption bands than traditional D–π-A dyes. The origins of the absorption bands in D–A–π-A organic dyes are analysed by density functional theory (DFT). The calculated results in combination with the deprotonation experiments suggest that the spectral response range of D–A–π-A organic dyes is superior to that of D–π-A ones. When employed in dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), the two dyes show a large difference in aggregation behaviour. It was found that WS-2 forms the unfavourable aggregates more easily. High performance of WS-2 strongly depends on the coadsorbent and suitable dye bath solvent. In contrast, WS-9 shows strong anti-aggregation ability, and always exhibits high performance regardless of the coadsorbent and dye bath solvent. Transient photovoltage and photocurrent decay experiments as well as electrochemical impedance spectroscopy indicate that the injected electron lifetime and charge recombination resistance are largely increased due to the introduction of a hexylthiophene unit, resulting in the high photovoltage based on WS-9. The optimized power conversion efficiency of WS-9 reaches 9.04% with high photocurrent (18.00 mA cm−2) and photovoltage (696 mV). The accelerating dye photo-stability was tested upon light irradiation of a dye-adsorbed TiO2 film in the absence of redox electrolyte, and a WS-9-based DSSC device with ionic liquid redox electrolyte. These results suggest that the structural engineering of organic dyes is important for highly efficient photovoltaic performance of solar cells, and our research will pave a novel way to design new efficient D–A–π-A organic dye sensitizers.
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