Either Accurate Singlet–Triplet Gaps or Excited-State Structures: Testing and Understanding the Performance of TD-DFT for TADF Emitters


The energy gap between the lowest singlet and triplet excited states (ΔEST) is a key property of thermally activated delayed fluorescence (TADF) emitters, where these states are dominated by charge-transfer (CT) character. Despite its well-known shortcomings concerning CT states, time-dependent density functional theory (TD-DFT) is widely used to predict this gap and study TADF. Moreover, polar CT states exhibit a strong interaction with their molecular environment, which further complicates their computational description. Addressing these two major challenges, this work studies the performance of Tamm–Dancoff-approximated TD-DFT (TDA-DFT) on the recent STGABS27 benchmark set,1 exploring different strategies to include orbital and structural relaxation, as well as dielectric embedding. The results show that the best-performing strategy is to calculate ΔEST at the ground-state structure using functionals with a surprisingly small amount of Fock exchange of ≈10% and without a (complete) solvent model. However, as this approach heavily relies on error cancellation to mimic dielectric relaxation, it is not robust and exhibits large systematic deviations in excited state energies, state characters, and structures. More rigorous approaches, including state-specific solvation, do not share these systematic deviations, but their predicted ΔEST values exhibit larger statistical errors. We thus conclude that for the description of CT states in dielectric environments, none of the tested TDA-DFT methods is competitive with the recently presented ROKS/PCM approach regarding robustness, accuracy, and computational efficiency

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