* Europe, U.S. natural fits, but elsewhere not ruled out
* Says mining a bad fit with smelting
* Seeking to add value through process improvements
By Barbara Lewis
SANTIAGO, April 5 (Reuters) - Aurubis AG, the world's biggest copper recycler, is likely to start its search for acquisitions in Europe and the United States as it looks to expand into other metals, but will not get into mining, its chief executive told Reuters.
Juergen Schachler, who took over as CEO in July 2016 after two decades in steel, said in March he aimed to turn Aurubis into a multi-metals company by expanding into non-ferrous metals, but has given few details ahead of a strategy update planned for October.
"We're very strong in Europe. We have a footprint in the U.S. so there's some logic we will look at these areas first, but this doesn't exclude that we're looking further," he said in an interview in Santiago, Chile, where he is attending the CRU World Copper Conference.
"One focus - it has to be a good fit for the core business that we have at the moment," he added
That business is producing copper from concentrated ore or scrap and recycling materials.
Alongside major copper smelters in Hamburg and Luenen in Germany, Aurubis has copper and copper product activities in countries including Bulgaria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, and the United States.
For Schachler, one business he does not see fitting with those activities is mining.
"If you have combined activities, smelters and mines, it’s very tricky to love both kinds of business in the same way because every dollar you spend in investment in the mine is a much higher payback versus a smelter," he said.
"It makes a lot of good logic for the miners to concentrate on the mines," he added, saying the performance of integrated smelters often showed "room for improvement".
Internally, his focus is on maximising value through improvements - saving energy, for instance, by recycling heat.
Aurubis reported a higher-than-expected operating profit for the first quarter.
Schachler said the company was adapted to the current challenge of poorer ore grades and that, unlike the mining sector, it was not at the mercy of the copper price, which is stronger than a year ago, but faces uncertainties.
"We will be growing. Copper concentrates are getting more complex, that's where we're strong," Schachler said.
"Our business model is quite independent of the copper price. We buy and we sell probably at the same moment, so we’re hedging most of the material that we have."
$1 = 0.9366 euros Editing by Mark Potter