I was talking with a friend about a design for a perpetual motion machine that used magnets, but he said that magnets eventually lose their magnetism. I don't want anyone to go into how Thermodynamics disproves perpetual motion, I just want someone to answer this question: Do magnets ever lose their magnetism, and if so how long does it take?
This is an interesting question. It would make some sense that a magnet would operate like a battery and eventually die, but it doesn't work like that.
Colloquially speaking, a magnet has its characteristic properties because of a certain alignment of its atoms.
Hence speaking generally about permanent magnets, the way it works is that the magnet loses its power is when the atoms come out of alignment.
There are various ways the atoms can be forced to disturb their alignment and hence leading to the magnets losing their magnetism such as via heating them or giving it a jolt or shock or by putting it in a demagnetizing magnetic field etc.
For temporary magnets, well, it depends on process to process and they can have varied life times.
Hope it helps!
P.S I tried to keep this answer as simple as possible.
The answer depends on the magnet. A temporary magnet can lose its magnetization in less than 1 hour. Neodymium magnets lose less than 1% of their strength over 10 years. Permanent magnets such as sintered Nd-Fe-B magnets remain magnetized indefinitely.
Do magnets ever lose their magnetism, and if so how long does it take?
The answer by DIYser is incomplete. If magnets are not interacting the time table he gives are reasonable. If they interact in any way , they lose magnetization.
One can use a permanent magnet to magnetize iron for example. The energy needed for the ordering of magnetic dipoles in the unmagnetized material is taken from the potential energy of the oriented dipoles, demagnetizing them slowly. So how long it takes to demagnetize a permanent magnet depends on the process that induced demagnetization.
Look at the answer here . Permanent magnets are not really permanent.
As for energy extraction, think of a magnet as similar to an electric battery. One can get useful work from an electric battery, but it finally discharges. Analogously, the lined up magnetic domains in a permanent magnet were either "charged" by the creations of the earth energies, or by using electric currents , i.e. storing potential energy in the magnetic material. One might think an ingenious way of getting kinetic energy from the magnet's potential one, but eventually the domains will become randomized. In the electric battery chemical bonds that were storing energy are destroyed by energy extraction, in the magnet orientation is destroyed.