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On the Computational Characterization of Charge-Transfer Effects in Noncovalently Bound Molecular Complexes


Charge-transfer (CT) is an important binding force in the formation of intermolecular complexes, and there have been a variety of theoretical models proposed to quantify this effect. These approaches, which typically rely on a definition of a "CT-free" state based on a partition of the system, sometimes yield significantly different results for a given intermolecular complex. Two widely used definitions of the "CT-free" state, the absolutely localized molecular orbitals (ALMO) method (where only on-fragment orbital mixings are permitted) and the constrained density functional theory (CDFT) approach (where fragment electron populations are fixed), are carefully examined in this work. Natural bond orbital (NBO) and the regularized symmetry-adapted perturbation theory (SAPT) are also briefly considered. Results for the ALMO and CDFT definitions of CT are compared on a broad range of model systems, including hydrogen-bonding systems, borane complexes, metal-carbonyl complexes, and complexes formed by water and metal cations. For most of these systems, CDFT yields a much smaller equilibrium CT energy compared to that given by the ALMO-based definition. This is mainly because the CDFT population constraint does not fully inhibit CT, which means that the CDFT "CT-free" state is in fact CT-contaminated. Examples of this contamination include (i) matching forward and backward donation (e.g., formic acid dimer) and (ii) unidirectional CT without changing fragment populations. The magnitude of the latter effect is quantified in systems such as the water dimer by employing a 3-space density constraint in addition to the orbital constraint. Furthermore, by means of the adiabatic EDA, it is shown that several observable effects of CT, such as the "pyramidalization" of the planar BH3 molecule upon the complexation with Lewis bases, already appear on the "CT-free" CDFT surface. These results reveal the essential distinctions between the ALMO and CDFT definitions of CT and suggest that the former is more consistent with accepted understanding of the role of CT in intermolecular binding.

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