Natural Charge-Transfer Analysis: Eliminating Spurious Charge-Transfer States in Time-Dependent Density Functional Theory via Diabatization, with Application to Projection-Based Embedding
For many types of vertical excitation energies, linear-response time-dependent density functional theory (LR-TDDFT) offers a useful degree of accuracy combined with unrivaled computational efficiency, although charge-transfer excitation energies are often systematically and dramatically underestimated, especially for large systems and those that contain explicit solvent. As a result, low-energy electronic spectra of solution-phase chromophores often contain tens to hundreds of spurious charge-transfer states, making LR-TDDFT needlessly expensive in bulk solution. Intensity borrowing by these spurious states can affect intensities of the valence excitations, altering electronic bandshapes. At higher excitation energies, it is difficult to distinguish spurious charge-transfer states from genuine charge-transfer-to-solvent (CTTS) excitations. In this work, we introduce an automated diabatization that enables fast and effective screening of the CTTS acceptor space in bulk solution. Our procedure introduces ``natural charge-transfer orbitals'' that provide a means to isolate orbitals that are most likely to participate in a CTTS excitation. Projection of these orbitals onto solvent-centered virtual orbitals provides a criterion for defining the most important solvent molecules in a given excitation and be used as an automated subspace selection algorithm for projection-based embedding of a high-level description of the CTTS state in a lower-level description of its environment. We apply this method to an ab initio molecular dynamics trajectory of I-(aq) and report the lowest-energy CTTS band in the absorption spectrum. Our results are in excellent agreement with experiment and only one-third of the water molecules in the I-(H2O)96 simulation cell need to be described with LR-TDDFT in order to obtain excitation energies that are converged to <0.1 eV. The tools introduced herein will improve the accuracy, efficiency, and usability of LR-TDDFT in solution-phase environments.