Conformational energies are an important chemical property for which a performance assessment of theoretical methods is mandatory. Existing benchmark sets are often limited to biochemical or main group element containing molecules, while organometallic systems are generally less studied. A key problem herein is to routinely generate conformers for these molecules due to their complexity and manifold of possible coordination patterns. In this study we used our recently published CREST protocol [Pracht et al., Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2020, 22, 7169–7192] to generate conformer ensembles for a variety of 40 challenging transition metal containing molecules, which were then used to form a comprehensive conformational energy benchmark set termed TMCONF40. Several low-cost semiempirical, density functional theory (DFT) and force-field methods were compared to high level DLPNO-CCSD(T1) and double-hybrid DFT reference values. Close attention was paid to the energetic ordering of the conformers in the statistical evaluation. With respect to the double-hybrid references, both tested low-cost composite DFT methods produce high Pearson correlation coefficients of rp,mean,B97-3c//B97-3c = 0.922 and rp,mean,PBEh-3c//B97-3c = 0.890, with mean absolute deviations close to or below 1 kcal mol−1. This good performance also holds for a comparison to DLPNO-CCSD(T1) reference energies for a smaller subset termed TMCONF5. Based on DFT geometries, the GFNn-xTB methods yield reasonable Pearson correlation coefficients of rp,mean,GFN1-xTB//B97-3c = 0.617 (MADmean = 2.15 kcal mol−1) and rp,mean,GFN2-xTB//B97-3c = 0.567 (MADmean = 2.68 kcal mol−1), outperforming the widely used PMx methods on the TMCONF40 test set. Employing the low-cost composite DFT method B97-3c on GFN2-xTB geometries yields an slightly improved correlation of rp,mean,B97-3c//GFN2-xTB = 0.632. Furthermore, for 68% of the investigated complexes at least one low-energy conformer was found that is more stable than the respective crystal structure conformation, which signals the importance of conformational studies. General recommendations for the application of the CREST protocol and DFT methods for transition metal conformational energies are given.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Quantum Theory: The Challenge of Transition Metal Complexes